#FridayFlash: Roofline


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.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Really powerful writing here. Strong descriptions and your characterisation is spot on.

  2. Wow, I wasn't expecting that. I thought maybe she was dealing with chemo and wanted some alone time…

    Worst case of PMS I ever heard about!

  3. Very powerful piece of writing, loved the rooftop discriptions.

    helen scibbles

  4. Again? She needs a pill to stop all that. Do phoenixes burst into flames every month? Damn.

  5. How much emphasis did you intend on the final "not," Tony? Because bold and in all capitals, it reads as hysterical to me. Maybe bombastic. I paused mid-fiction to puzzle over if I'd gotten it right, and if so, what that means for the speaker's frame of mind.

  6. Love the way this twists and turns, but never in an unsatisfying way, never leaving me feeling cheated. Especially the final understated one, this month.

    I wonder that she seems so hardened, what has got her to the almost bitter, 'Endure. Tolerate. Survive' state of mind. Unless she is the last of her kind (A western phoenix rather than an eastern one, perhaps).

  7. I liked the atmosphere and the twist. And you had me hooked right from the start. This read to me like part of something bigger. Like an inhabitant of a dark superhero world.

    In other words: more please!

  8. I echo Mr. Newman on that one- this seems like one of several stories. Almost like a heroes type-of set up.

  9. *foom*

    I do have to ask the significance of her shaved head. Was that just to throw us off and think chemo? Does it burn her hair off? Cleverly place red herring? We wants to kow.

  10. Icy: Thanks Icy!

    FARfetched: Wow, I wasn't expecting that. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

    Helen: Thank you!

    storytreasury: Yeah, if only there were some way to stop it...

    John: bold and in all capitals, it reads as hysterical to me. Hysterical-funny or hysterical-on-ther-verge-of-madness?

    John: I wonder that she seems so hardened, what has got her to the almost bitter, 'Endure. Tolerate. Survive' state of mind. Well, having to endure the bursting into flames every month would wear me down, I'll tell you that much.

    Peter: I'm glad you liked it! In other words: more please! Ah, I make no promises!

    Red: Wakka wakka wakka!

    Bev: There's a ton of backstory to her. It's just that I don't know any of it.

    D. Paul: I meant that to be a result of having all of the hair burnt off her body every four weeks. However, it works as a red herring about chemotherapy, too.

    Kirsten: Thank you! You get 5 stars for reading!

  11. Actually I think PMS would be easier to endure if you could just burst into flames. Cause it sure feels like that sometimes. And hey - you're a guy!!!!

  12. Human phoenix. I like it.

  13. Great use of the cold to represent despair and the heat to represent remorse. Beautifully written, althought it left me a little confused.

  14. The small details still ring out in spite of the unexpected ending: the rim of salt, the pigeon waste. I guess she sees something different every month.

  15. Reminded me a little of phoenixes. Or until the end I had a sense of sacrifice. I'm not exactly sure which is worse being done with it once or undergoing it every month.

  16. I was expecting a jumper, not an inferno. I like the inferno better and thank yuh.

  17. I suspected she was going to commit suicide by hypothermia, an interesting way to go, but was completely thrown when she burst into flames. But that begs the question... WHY?

    I *REALLY* want to know! :)

  18. Cathy Olliffe-Webster: And hey - you're a guy!!!! Yes. Yes, I am.

    louisebroadbentfiction: Thanks!

    laradunning: There are a great many things I left unsaid in this one.

    flyingscribbler: I guess she sees something different every month. She bursts into flames every month. The weather changes, but the flames and the view from the rooftop do not. Of course, as she said, other people have it even worse than she does.

    Aidan Fritz: Good question. Is is worse to have to put up with it as a recurring thing?

    Donald Conrad: Thanks for reading!

    ganymeder: But that begs the question... WHY? I *REALLY* want to know! Sorry. I haven't written that part, so I don't know why she bursts into flames on a regular basis.

  19. Great beginning to this story, I was immediately intrigued as I wondered what the character had to do. Definitely wasn't expecting the end either. :)

    I hope you're planning to write more as I'm very interested in her world. Is it her responsibility to do this alone, and what does it achieve? Does anyone know of her sacrifice or is she nameless?


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