by Tony Noland
Up here, she could pretend it was OK, that she didn't mind. Or she could wallow in self-pity about the unfairness of it all, sometimes even to the point of crying real tears. Or she could allow herself to feel all noble, looking up at the nighttime sky and thinking about everyone who had things so much worse than she did. It wasn't that bad, compared to what some people had to endure.
Endure. Tolerate. Survive.
She didn't know what she wanted, or what kind of a night it was going to be. If anything, she was just tired of thinking about it, tired of dealing with it, just tired of everything.
Pigeon droppings were dried to a lumpy gray crust on the stone wall that surrounded the roof. They were everywhere, but the coating was thickest on the south side, along the part that was sheltered from the wind by the utility shed. She crossed to the north side and looked down onto the street. Cars, trucks, taxis, a bus. A few cyclists, a stream of hurrying pedestrians, collars and hoods pulled close. Last week's snow - three wet inches worth, the first of the season - had melted over the weekend, so the pavement was mostly clear. Salt rimed the lanes, splashes of white that looked like a smoother version of the pigeon shit she was leaning against.
The air felt heavy, like more snow was on the way. The temperature was down, way below freezing already and a rising, gusty wind pushed at her, buffeting against her chest like someone trying to make a line move faster. She took off her knitted cap, letting the wind rake through the stubble on her scalp. Facing full into the wind, her eyes began to water and she felt her ears tingle. Twenty minutes of this and she'd have frostbite.
She knew she had less than five.
And, though she hated it, hated it with every part of her body, hated that she had to just endure, tolerate, and survive it, there was nothing to be done, no alternative. She spent the next four minutes hating, but there were no tears this time. It might have felt like a victory of some kind, if it had mattered whether or not she cried beforehand.
Her hat and gloves went into one pocket of her coat, her scarf into the other.
It is what it is. That's how it goes. You play the hand you're dealt.
She unzipped the coat and threw it onto the gravel roof.
We all have our crosses to bear. Shit happens.
Her shoes were next, socks removed and stuffed inside. She unbuttoned her jeans and slid them down, shivering with the icy wind that raised hard, painful goosebumps on her bare legs. The sweatshirt, T-shirt, bra and underwear went on top of the jeans and coat. The shoes she put on top of all, so nothing would blow away.
Life sucks and then you die.
Shaking with cold, she stepped up onto the thick concrete block and raised her arms outward. The tears flowed and froze on her face, torn from her unwilling eyes by the knifing wind. She tottered and hunched, muscles contracting in the freezing air.
Nine seconds after the pain and rage made her cry for real, she arched her back and burst into flames, a huge explosion of heat and light, like an oil refinery set ablaze. It roared up into the night, lighting up the sky for blocks around, the outline of her naked young body a dark shape within the roiling conflagration.
She wept and moaned, promising herself that this month she would not scream.
Would not scream.
Would. NOT. Scream.
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