The Boy Who Will Burn
L'Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878

Rebecca Meacham

The boy who will burn runs the wide-open lanes, fluttering the ladies' skirts, losing his cap. He is not on fire yet. Now he is the King of Breezes, a boy with wings, a kite. Mother shouts Arrête! and down he falls. He finds himself before thatch-roofed huts, a painted sign: Les Aborigines! Men throw sticks of fire high into the air. Men flip and catch fire sticks with their toes. Men spin fire sticks in circles, and the boy who will burn sees a glowing ring that hovers in the air. The ring of fire is a dragon's eye. It winks.

The boy who will burn sees naked arms and legs. The men tossing fire have skin like candy. The boy who will burn has skin like snow. Mother cooks sugar in a pot, stirs until it bubbles. Il pleut sur le dragon, Mother says, pouring cream like rain until the bubbles hiss and spit. Steam rises to their faces: dragon's breath. The sugar stretches. Mother loops flowers, rolls logs, pops a drop onto his lips, awaits his caramel kiss.

Bonjour, Monsieur Dragon, says the boy who will burn to the winking eye. He rushes past the thatched-roof huts up to the brown-skinned men. He takes the dragon's flames into the whiteness of his hands.

But the dragon swallows him. Through its teeth, the boy who will burn— the burning boy—sees Mother swooping like a jay. Men in tall hats sprout black wings and cover him with feathers. The burning boy screams, heaving throatward, clawing for the coolness deep inside the dragon's stomach. His skin is bubbling, white, black, sausage-colored red. It won't be long. The burning boy thirsts for Mother's fingertips. Nowhere in the whole wide world is there a sweeter thing.

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