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“The Mathematics of Fire,” by Cassidy McCants

The Mathematics of Fire

Cassidy McCants

Some people push your buttons, pull your strings. Some touch your surfaces, sketch your lines. Some are your mirrors; some see right through you.

The latter, I can tell you, are not there for your comfort. I can tell you this because Annie is one of them. Annie always saw me. And it burned, her attention. Her sight.

Annie is a seer. A seer who sears. Fire.

I am private. Inward. I am the water that puts out the fire.

Doesn’t it burn to be seen?

Annie, what I would do to let you burn me a little longer, a little more. Annie, can you hear me? I don’t want to label you, to put you in a little box: fire.

But I did, once. I put Annie in a little box. For therapy. She was haunting my dreams, infecting my reality. Her depth, her vision of me. I loved her because she didn’t believe the things I said. She saw the things I did. Some people are so easily fooled. Not her.

See is tied to seat, sit, I have heard. Those who see do so from their thrones. They’re situated just right. I envy these people. It’s taken me long enough to see a glimpse of even just myself.

Let’s entertain the idea, though, just once more, that Annie is fire and I am water. Does it check out?

Annie: Fire. She was always good at math. Do firefighters use math? Does the fire itself?

Me: Interested in math. I tried to explain to her my idea about how math is more flexible than they say; that is, there are many ways to solve a math problem.

If there are 3 wildfires per week in this country, and each fire encounters 2 bodies of water, you might multiply 3 by 52 by 2 or 52 by 6 for the collision count. Or 156 by 2. 312 fire/water encounters. If there are 3 wildfires per week and each fire contains carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen, and nitrogen, you might figure there are 4 gasses times 52 weeks times 3 fires. Or maybe you simply multiply 12 by 52. 624 gasses.

But not really, of course. Still there are only the four gasses showing up again and again. I prefer to multiply the smallest quantity (the bodies of water, in example one) by the largest (the weeks) by the one in the middle (the fires). There are many ways to get your answer; it all depends on whether or not you want to start with minutia.

While Annie appreciated my enthusiasm here, she saw beyond my explanation, down to what really mattered: I cannot be happy with just one way. Oh, Selina, she’d say. Like a mother. Like a friend.

For therapy, I had to put Annie in a cozy little box in my mind so thoughts of her couldn’t burn me anymore. I gave her pillows, blankets. A diffuser with calming oils, scents to make her linger there. And now this is where she lives. This was necessary because I couldn’t stop replaying the scene in which she burnt me the last time: Selina, you don’t know who you are. Selina, I’m exhausted trying to show you yourself. All that emotional labor.

But she was right. I did not cry. I’ve kept in all that liquid. All that water, all the electrolytes, the proteins (there are four: lysozyme, lactoferrin, tear-specific lipocalins (TSLs), and S-IgA), the lipids, the mucins. I hold it all within me now, because I am learning what I am. I am composed of tears I will not cry for her. Because I am water. I contain myself. I am made up of 206 bones. At least 640 muscles (three types: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal). And a memory that now houses a box with Annie inside it, tucked away, out of sight and soon mind. And I am working on counting all that’s inside me. I am yearning to count.

About the Author

Cassidy McCants is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her BA in creative writing from University of Arkansas and her MFA in fiction writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the creator/editor of Apple in the Dark and is an associate editor for Nimrod Journal. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Lascaux Review, Liars’ League NYC, Gravel, The Idle Class, filling Station, Witch Craft Magazine, and other publications, and her stories have received honorable mentions from Glimmer Train Press. She’s a 2020 Artist Inc. fellow.

Editorial Note

Cassidy McCants won our 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest with her story, “The Things I Took From Your House.” Cassidy’s winning story will be published in our next print edition, The Conium Review: Vol. 9. If you enjoyed this story, look for her prize-winning piece in-print later this month.

Cassidy McCants is the 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest Winner!

Cassidy McCants is the 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner!

The results are in. Emily Wortman-Wunder has finished deliberating, and we’re pleased to announce Cassidy McCants as the 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner for her piece “The Things I Took From Your House.” Cassidy’s piece will be published in The Conium Review: Vol. 9, and she’ll receive a $500 prize, contributor copies, and a copy of the judge’s book.

Cassidy McCants is a writer and editor from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her B.A. in creative writing from University of Arkansas and her M.F.A. in fiction writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she is Managing Editor of Nimrod International Journal. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Lascaux Review, Liars’ League NYC, Gravel, The Idle Class, Filling Station, Witch Craft Magazine, and other publications, and her stories have received honorable mentions from Glimmer Train Press.

This year’s finalists were Kelly Hill, Ploy Pirapokin, and Miranda Williams.

Here’s what Emily had to say about her choice:

Headshot of Cassidy McCants, the 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner

“All four finalists were good but this one stood out with the way its innovative form mirrored and reinforced its arc and helped to nudge out new corners of its characters. I loved this story’s sly and surprising voice, the way it skipped along in a wry wistful way and then plunged in the knife.”

–Emily Wortman-Wunder, contest judge & author of Not a Thing to Comfort You

Introducing our new fiction editors

We’re pleased to formally announce our four newest staff members: Holly Lopez, Meredith Maltby, Marina Petrova, and William VanDenBerg! They’ve already begun reading submissions and have proven themselves valuable members of The Conium Review team.

Holly Lopez is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. Her work has appeared in Plots With Guns, Charlotte Viewpoint, and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good. She is also the recipient of the 2012 Marjorie Blankenship Melton Award in Fiction. As an editor, she appreciates when writers subvert expectations and produce stories that are fresh and unconventional. She’s most interested in strange stories that also have dimension, red-blooded characters, and effectively tap into the human condition. Some of her favorite authors include George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell.

Meredith Maltby is the poetry editor for the Tulane Review and was a featured poet at Design Cloud Chicago’s HERE / NOW event. Meredith has previously published her work in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Chicago Tribune, ROAR: a literary journal for women of the arts, and Gravel Journal, among others. She appreciates interesting and strange writing from underrepresented voices. She admires and is influenced by Amelia Gray’s Gutshot, Lincoln Michel’s Upright Beasts, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, Bonnie Campell’s Mothers Tell Your Daughters, and anything by Ariana Reines or Melissa Broder.

Marina Petrova was published in The Conium Review: Vol. 4, and when we posted our call for editors, she was eager to get more involved with our small press. She graduated from the MFA program at The New School in May 2014, where she had previously served as a reader for LIT. Her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Underwater New York, and Calliope Anthology. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories. In her non-writing life, she also works as a Business Analyst for a Media Tech company. Marina is a native Russian speaker, and growing up she was influenced by Chekhov, Nabokov, and Bulgakov. More recently, she’s become a huge fan of Donald Barthelme, Italo Calvino, Ben Marcus, Junot Díaz, and George Saunders.

William VanDenBerg is a first year MFA student at Brown University. He is the author of two chapbooks: Lake of Earth from Caketrain Press and Apostle Islands from Solar Luxuriance—he’ll be signing copies of these chapbooks at our AWP Conference table in Los Angeles (table #1238). He loves the work of Donald Barthelme, Ann Quin, Lindsay Hunter, Amelia Gray, and Steven Millhauser.

Visit masthead page to learn more about these editors and the rest of our staff.

“The Pale Investigator,” by Mercedes Lawry

Magnifying Glass

The Pale Investigator stored her dry goods in glass jars, appreciative of their colors and shapes. She kept fruit in a blonde basket and wooden spoons in an old tea tin featuring a cherubic child. The Pale Investigator favored a classic wardrobe in neutral colors and naturally, sensible shoes. She kept her loyalty cards in a small hand-stitched wallet, separate from her license, credit cards and cash. Her former boyfriend admired her pluck but could not accommodate her erratic hours. Her sister, the medical librarian, was secretly envious though tended to discredit her profession at holiday meals, once using the word “snoop,” uttered with disdain.  The Pale Investigator had a wide range of skills and an average grasp of global politics. Though she did not feel the need to make use of full disguises, she did keep a selection of hats in her trunk. The Pale Investigator dreamed of that one big case, the one that would introduce her to fame and fortune or some modest hybrid of the two. Once upon a time, she thought that her work might provide insight about the complexity of human nature, but thus far she had only discovered that people were mainly uninspired in their tawdry behavior while trying to achieve maximum pleasure. If she’d been forced to choose one single word to describe the collective activities of the general public, she would have to choose the word tedious.

About the Author:

Mercedes Lawry has previously published short fiction in several journals including, Gravel, Dying Goose, Cleaver, Garbanzo, Conclave, and theNewerYork. For many years, she’s been publishing poetry in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, The Saint Ann’s Review, and others and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Additionally, she’s published stories, musings, and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.

Image Credit: © dikaya888 / Dollar Photo Club