Death of a Character Exercise

I squeezed Sara to my chest. She was sandpaper rough, her arms chalk-powdered. She burned to the touch. Cracks of flesh lined her body, blood runny and bubbly. Skidded tire smell pervaded the air around us. She was alive but—God, how could I even think this—she’d be better off not. Her shut eyes were twitching. Her mouth was open and her teeth were clamped shut. Everyone outside was calling her, shouting her name, but she wouldn’t respond. Her head hadn’t turned an inch left or right since I pulled her out the house. She was in shock.

I sat on the green fire hydrant on the curb, my baby sister wrapped tight in my arms. Men sprinted past us, their red helmets bouncing on their heads, carrying hoses thick as my thigh. No one looked twice at my seat. Everyone knew this one was broken for decades. The money never came to this part of the city.

Sara stirred, she reached her left arm to touch her face. The gesture looked painful.

“Don’t move so much. You’re very hot, you need to rest.”

Her touching her own skin probably ignited her nerves. Pain from the burns, cuts opening from contracting the muscles. It was so hard to breath in there, she needs to get more air in her system before she moves at all.

She let her arm fell to her side. Her body was sweltering against my knees. She needed water. Something to cool her insides. 

“Hold on Sara. Brother’s gonna save you.”

Holding her, I ran down the block. The flames engulfed the our entire house—they were still trying to get Mom and Dad from the second floor—but they were having trouble reaching rowhomes connected to ours. I had to find a house that wasn’t hit yet. Someone would lend us some water.

When she was six Sis wanted me to teach her to play ball. Of course I said no, she was too little, too short to dribble. Not to mention the ball could hit her head. She wouldn’t stop following me though, standing behind me whenever I tried to shoot. Chasing me, trying to snatch the ball. When she was seven, I let her pass it to me before it rolled down the street. She’d start guessing my shots, “made it,” “nope.” Somehow, she was mostly right.

“I gotta teach you when you get a bit older.”

“Yeah, and I’ll kick your butt.”

Two houses didn’t answer but the third opened. A woman. I explained about the commotion, the sirens, the fire. She gave me some water bottles out her fridge and ran inside. She had some things she didn’t want the fire to destroy.

We sat on her porch, Sara in my lap. I slowly tipped some water down her throat, hoping she’d be able to swallow. She did. I put my head to her chest, her heart was beating wildly.

The cuts. I needed alcohol to clean them. I rushed up to knock on the woman’s door again. My elbow bumped against Sara’s neck. She winced, hard. Tears formed in her eyes. Then she stopped. Her teeth loosened. Her head fell back. Everything around me started going fast. My heart. The men running in the street. The porch grew wide, from ten feet to ten miles. I put my head to her chest. Then I screamed.