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Then We Saw the Flames

Then We Saw the Flames: Stories

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Then We Saw the Flames
    Book Description:

    In this freewheeling debut collection, Daniel A. Hoyt takes us from the swamps of Florida to the streets of Dresden, to the skies above America, to the tourist hotels of Acapulco, to the southwest corner of Nebraska. Along the way, we encounter a remarkable group of characters all struggling to find their footing in an unsettling world. Sometimes magical, sometimes realistic, sometimes absurd, these stories reveal people teetering on the dangerous edge of their lives. In “Amar,” a Turkish restaurant owner deals with skinheads and the specter of violence that haunts his family. In “Boy, Sea, Boy,” a shipwrecked sailor receives a surreal visitor, a version of himself as a child. In “The Collection,” a father and son squander a trove of bizarre and fanciful objects. And in “The Kids,” a suburban couple grasp for meaning after discovering children eating from their trash. In each of these stories, characters find themselves challenged by the political, cultural, and spiritual forces that define their lives. With a clear eye and a steady hand, Hoyt explores a fragile balance: the flames—fueled by love, loss, hope, and family—shed new light on us. Sometimes we feel warmth, and sometimes we simply burn.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-112-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
    (pp. 1-17)

    Darren felt his boots being embraced by the mud. He felt the wind crinkle his ears. He felt the old man’s finger poking into his arm, into his skin, bone, muscle, fat—there were so many layers in a human being—and then the old man made a tight shrill cry, nothing like a man. He did it again and again:keck, keck, keck.

    “That one’s been dead for fifty years, sixty years,” the old man said. “The bird’s extinct, and the call’s extinct. Nearly extinct. I’m the only one keeping it alive.”

    Darren wanted to be anywhere, even school,...

  4. AMAR
    (pp. 18-26)

    Yesterday Amar ate half a box of raisins, two crusts of bread cemented together with toasted cheese, seven grapes, and three squares broken off of a chocolate bar.

    He didn’t have time to be hungry. Benji required the hours of the moon, and the restaurant demanded the hours of the sun, and the skinheads, their hate as dark as an eclipse, stole ticks of the clock from both celestial objects.

    The skinheads were rude, beer-smelling, shaven but unwashed and pimply, and they wanted to grind his business under them, under feet shod with boots and cruelty. They took up the...

  5. MARIA
    (pp. 27-36)

    Night haunts the sacred forest, but to believe this, one must view it head-on.

    I never liked watching from the wings of the stage. You could see the pulleys and winches that made the curtains slip up and then crash down. You could see the backs of the chorus members’ tunics where the stitches remained raw. You could see the (real) wood hammered up to support the (fake) trees. I liked it when Maria secured a ticket, when I had a seat in the house, when the sacred forest came alive before me like a dream.

    On stage, Maria performed...

    (pp. 37-40)

    Tiananmen bent down before the The Chez du Pancakes as if he were praying.

    Then we saw the flames.

    When he ran down the street, churning away from the juts of smoke, we ran as well. We were a great mob designed to bring him comfort.

    Except maybe this is the end of the story.

    We tend to get ahead of ourselves sometimes. Then we smash and bump into one another. We elbow and push. Beer gets spilled. We suffer bruised feelings and body parts. Swearing spreads like the heebakibees. All in all it’s bad for the esprit de corps....

  7. BOY, SEA, BOY
    (pp. 41-46)

    The sea offered bits of spite, parts of the ship. All splinters. First Mate waited for something of substance, a dead body, his chess set, buildable wood. The sea offered none of these things.

    First Mate neither cried nor mourned. He had hated them all—Captain with his lispy orders, Sebastian with his receding hairline, a head like a cobwebbed egg; he could supply more too, more people, more reasons to hate—and had the ship not sunk he himself would have offered his own flesh to the sea. He would have said, “Here is a body and here are...

    (pp. 47-54)

    Paul chased them away.

    “Get out of here,” he yelled.

    They scattered. Four of them running off, howling in the dark. The green plastic can was tipped onto its side, its innards spilled out and all over the patio behind the garage.

    Paul looked at scraps of used napkins, a pile of something vaguely larval, traces of white paste (mayonnaise? chunkified sour milk?). In theory, it was abstract expressionism, but it possessed a message of pure lucidity: “You are now required to re-gather your own waste products, punkass fool!”

    He swept up, and the trash stenched through his nostrils, came...

    (pp. 55-66)

    The mission overflows with false angels and the sting of broken teeth. Our missing parts yell at us. My molar aches from a distant landfill, and the ghosts we never believed in tug at our sleeves, stare us down, keep us on a trajectory we did not choose. I imagine voices from the clouds. They sing and beg me to join in on the chorus.

    “Bumps, hitches, errors, evil spirits, and pants filled with shit,” I say.

    M. says, “A., shut your thesaurus mouth.”

    Far below, the Sears Tower mocks us. It’s a giant middle finger stuck up in the...

    (pp. 67-76)

    They tell the story to scare freshmen: There’s a guy who lives in a park downtown, and he doesn’t bathe, and he’s covered with filth, and he’s really, really famous, and he’s so gross it messes with people’s minds.

    You don’t believe them.

    You could have stayed home at BU or even Tufts (your SAT scores were that good, and you ran cross-country, and you did public service senior year, picking up aluminum cans that fuckheads threw from their pukemobiles onto the side of the highway, and you even wrote six poems that were published in the student literary magazine),...

    (pp. 77-83)

    Patterson pulled on bleach-stained khakis, glared at his sleeping wife, tucked frustration into his waistband along with the tail of his shirt, and glared again. He helped lots of kids, troubled or not, but that didn’t mean he liked them sleeping in his house.

    “I’m awake,” Vicki said. “I feel you looking at me.”

    “Love,” he said, “I’m going to wake that kid good and up.”

    The stranger was one of those fucked-up white kids, one of those suburban druggies who made Patterson reconfigure infertility as a kind of blessing. Vicki’s cousin’s kid, a once-removed type or some other questionable...

    (pp. 84-91)

    Those were the days when I mainly talked to myself.

    “There’s Betsy Ross’s left-handed needle, Marion Barry’s crack pipe, the hatchet George Washington didn’t use when he didn’t chop down that cherry tree.”

    The Collection was designed to astound and thrill, to astonish and free the mind. It was the morning after a dream. I wept for it.

    “The collectors are coming,” I said. “The collectors are coming.”

    They had been slavering for weeks, pranking Father, heckling, finding out if he still had Houdini’s mittens.

    Father was broke, spoiled, dried up tighter than a raisin. The collectors smelled bargains. They...

    (pp. 92-97)

    Sometimes they called him by this nickname (I don’t even like to think about it), like Sir February, except the title wasn’t Sir and the month wasn’t February, but you get the idea. This wasn’t the only reason he seemed so haughty, but it was one of the reasons, as if they had given the month his name, rather than vice versa. Then those candy bars came out with his picture on them. They were called Jackie Bars!! (With two exclamation points. Two of them!!) And despite my misgivings, I couldn’t deny that they were nougatly delicious. Three months later,...

    (pp. 98-105)

    When he first discovered the strip bar at the end of the boiling avenue, Evan adopted a limp and spoke in a slow low tone, something he considered mature and raspy. He soon gave up his affectations. They didn’t care how old he was. He had American dollars, and the girls patted his head, called him Americanito, called him muchacho. He ordered cerveza, and they brought him pineapple juice poured into Corona bottles. Once, when he was looking for the baño, he saw three of them topless, all three just standing there together, and they said, “Muchacho!” And he said,...

    (pp. 106-109)

    Ronnie didn’t always look this way, cropped blond hair like a boy’s and stubbed fingernails. She scrapes the plaque off your teeth, and you spit when she says, “Go ahead.” You fear her comments about flossing and her tone as she reshapes your misconceptions about gum disease. Years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined letting her fingers into your mouth.

    Years ago is when I met her.

    Years ago, she was lying there completely stripped. Her hair was matted and trampled and fluffy in other parts, and we both smelled of cigarettes, and the spirit of alcohol clung to us, and...

    (pp. 110-112)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 113-113)