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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.