Feed on

Set Me On Fire

That man seems to me to be equal to the gods

who is sitting opposite you

and hears you nearby

speaking sweetly

and laughing delightfully, which indeed

makes my heart flutter in my breast;

for when I look at you even for a short time,

it is no longer possible for me to speak

but it is as if my tongue is broken

and immediately a subtle fire has run over my skin,

I cannot see anything with my eyes,

and my ears are buzzing

a cold sweat comes over me, trembling

seizes me all over, I am paler

than grass, and I seem nearly

to have died. — Sappho 31


My mother always told me that staring is impolite. As a child, I was always reprimanded for staring at others for too long. The ladies in the shops and cafes would see me and at first, they would smile and wave a normal reaction to a small child looking at you with such attention. Eventually, my intense gaze would become too much, and those I chose to set within my line of sight would start to squirm, the effects of being observed overwhelming them. At this point, my mother would grab my hand in a tight grip and force me to apologize. 

Tonight there is no one to stop me from staring, out on my own I can do as I wish and my wish is to stare at her. Her hair is just long enough to kiss her shoulders, cascades of curls and flames that she cards her fingers through without getting burned. The man beside her must have made a joke because her face is sudden skyward, her neck curving back, long and beautiful, as her whole body shakes with laughter. My heart jumps into my throat. If I were a braver woman I’d approach her. Sit beside her perhaps just too close so our thighs touch ever so slightly. I’d lift my hand and tangle my fingers in those flames framing her face, my hand coming away charred and black from touching something to pure and hot without thinking. But it’d be worth it.

So caught in my fantasy I did catch her looking back at me until it was too late. Our eyes met, amber eyes scanning me up and down with a hint of amusement. Delicate fingers waved at me. I felt dizzy, my face no doubt hot and flushed as I quickly turned in my chair to face the other side of the room. I down the last of my drink and closed my eyes, overwhelmed by everything I saw now. 

“You don’t have to be jealous.” a low voice danced into my ear, the owner close enough I could feel her breath against my kneck. “I’m not their type after all. At least not for this crowd.” white teeth poke out from behind red lips when she smiles. The seat next to me is open so she claims it as her own. Freckles are sprinkled across her nose and cheeks, a small detail I couldn’t see when she was sitting so far from me but now this close I can count every mark along her skin. There’s even a small scar above her lip hidden well behind the red. 

My tongue has turned to lead in my mouth, but she has that look in her eyes like she’s waiting for me to speak. To say something and keep her interest. I don’t want her to leave, don’t want her to think me weirder than she already does so I open my mouth and pray anything will come out.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? For what?”

“For staring, it was incredibly rude. I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable.”

Hair spills from behind her ear and shields her face from my view. Unable to read her expression any longer my breath catches in my throat. Her nails are painted the same shade as her lips I notice when she tucks the hair back behind her ear. 

“Not uncomfortable, flattered is more like it.” The air stuck in my throat comes loose as a cough, my face heats again. “I’m Amy. Let me buy you a drink.”

The bartender stops and fills our glasses giving me a chance to breathe normally again. We must be a weird sight to him, the bar partons are all men except for us and another woman who left some time ago. Perhaps she came in looking for something and quickly realized she would not be able to get it here. No one can blame her for coming in and trying, the fact that this is a gay bar is not well advertised to the general public.

“Shelly.” I introduce myself finally and wrap my hands around my glass, grounding myself in the moment. 

“Nice to meet you.” Amy winks and raises her glass towards me expectedly. Hesitantly, I raise my own and our glasses clink together. The rest of the night passes us by and Amy somehow eases me out of my shell. Before long we’re talking and laughing together as our bodies subconsciously inching closer and closer with each passing hour. 

Closer to midnight, I’m drunker than I had planned to be and with that comes bravery. My hand drifts through the air before I know what I’m doing and my fingers tangle themselves in firer locks and come away without a burn.

 Days pass and I do not return to the Upstairs. 

Fear stops me every time I walk by the entrance. I want to ring the bell, be allowed to enter and climb the stairs as if I’m making my way to heaven. I want to sit at the bar and unwind, be with people who are different like me even though I am a woman and they are men. They understand at least somewhat.

I want to see Amy again.

My mother’s disappointed face pops in my head. There’s nothing about my life she would agree with now. When I was younger I was forced into dresses and make-up, she’d always bring up what a ‘nice young man’ her friend’s son had grown into and how he’s ‘about my age isn’t he.’ 

I look at my reflection in the nearby window. My short hair, my white T-shirt and jean outfit that my mother would definitely say something about if I saw her now. Perhaps she would comment on the fact that I don’t look, in her words, very pretty, perhaps she would say something about how boys wouldn’t want me if I dressed like them. Perhaps she had always known deep down that I was different and she couldn’t keep her selfish wishes for a normal daughter to herself. 

Looking at the door once more I stuff my hands into my pockets, secure in the knowledge that they are safe there from the bell. I walk away. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be braver, maybe tomorrow my mother’s face won’t haunt my every move. 

Maybe tomorrow I will see Amy again.


It takes some time but I eventually end up back at the Upstairs. As soon as I walk in I feel more at ease than I have in weeks. The red walls wrapping around me in a tight hug of safety and acceptance. The bar is alive with music and movement as men in dresses and heavy make-up glow from the makeshift stage. Inside these walls, everyone is happy and free,  the demons of the outside world can not touch them.

I scan the room, occasionally meeting the eyes of men who smile and wave at me. I return their smiles half-heartedly and slip past the crowds and through the doorway to the middle room searching for the one person I came here to see. By the time I reach the back of the bar she’s nowhere to be found and my chest hurts. 

It was foolish to even hope that she’d be here. If I wasn’t a coward and I had come back sooner maybe I could have seen her again. Or maybe things would have turned out the same and I would still be standing alone in the crowd with my hopes crushed. 

A hand brushes my back and I turn around much to excitedly only to come face to face with a man. He says nothing but points towards the barstools with a smile. My eyes follow his instructions and my heart stops. Sitting at the bar is Amy, all beauty and fire but somehow different and duller. In my anxious rush to find her, I had completely missed her. I thank the man and silently thank whatever cupid sent him to point me in the right direction before rushing to her. 

Amy doesn’t hear me approach over the music, doesn’t see me either since she’s head down against the wood of the bar. Being closer to her I can tell something is wrong. The air around her feels cold, even with all the moving bodies heating the room. Her skin is paler and her hair is tangled, the light hitting it and being absorbed instead of shinning off it making her glow. I want to hold her, wrap my arms around her until I can feel the warmth radiating off her again.

Gently, my hand touches her shoulder and she lifts her head. Amy smiles at me desperately but I can only focus on the bruise painting her eye. It’s yellow around the edges obviously a few days old by this point.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again. I came here every day I could hoping to find you again.” she grabs my hand in hers and holds it tight. My insides churn with emotions. On one hand the fact she’d come here wanting to see me again fills me with joy. On the other, I feel guilty for being a coward and making her wait.

“What happened to you?” my free hand lifts towards her face but stops once she flinches away as if she’s afraid I’m going to hurt her. My other hand is still gripping hers so I settle for squeezing it, trying to comfort her in someone and confirming to myself that she is real. She’s hurt and afraid but she’s here.

Amy looks down at out connected hands, her eyes look like cloudy glass as if she’s not actually seeing the things around her. Her lips, devoid of color tonight, open and close a few times before she can get her words out. 

“There are not many safe places around. This bar is one of the only ones and yet even it’s not the safest.” Amy lifts her head and catches my eyes with her golden gaze. “But they couldn’t stop me from coming here in hopes that I would see you.”

A tear drips down her cheek and my chest feels like it collapses from heartbreak. I nearly throw myself at her and wrap her in my arms as she cries. Apologies spill from my lips one after the other.

I’m sorry you got hurt. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. I’m sorry I’m not as brave as you.


I walk her home that night, peering in every dark corner before we pass to make sure we’re safe. Making sure she’s safe. We make it to her home and stand awkwardly on the porch for a long while. I’m afraid to leave her, afraid she might be hurt again if I can’t keep my eyes on her. Amy must feel the same since she hasn’t let go of my hand for the minutes we’ve been standing here.

The top of her head comes up to my chin so she has to lift her head to look me in the eyes. She already looks better, light has come back into her eyes although the yellowing of her bruise still distracts me. She smiles. I smile back. 

“I’m glad you finally showed up again, it was worth everything.” 

Then she kisses me. It feels like everything I’d hoped it would and more but before I can kiss back she pulls away. Her lips still touching mine every so lightly and it feels like flames dancing on the sensitive skin.

“If I go back tomorrow will you be there?”

“Yes. I won’t leave you waiting this time.”

With that, she turns and enters her door.


She’s late. The minutes tick by fast at first then in slow motion as the alcohol settles into my bloodstream. It’s still early as far as the hour is concerned, the clock shows half-past 7 pm early enough for the sun to still be in the sky although it starts to sink lower. My body begins to tingle and the need to move overcomes me but if I move from my seat I might miss her coming through the door. The energy builds and my leg begins to shake the movement rattling my empty glass on the table. 

“Shell. You’re shaking the whole bar.” The bartender grabs my hand and the rattling stops. He replaces the glass with a full one of clear liquid. “Amy’ll be here any minute now. Give her time.”

His words get drowned out by a buzzing in my ears but I nod anyways.

Maybe she really is just running late and I’m worried for nothing. Maybe she’s been attacked again and is far more injured than last time and I’m not there to help her. Maybe she wasn’t coming at all. The buzzing in my ears continues but now it sounds louder. My head hurts.

Out of the conor of my eyes, I see the door open. I expect to see Amy walk in with her hair flowing behind her a cape of flaming beauty behind her. Instead, a wave a fire wafts through the open door and everyone screams. The buzzing is still going and I realize it’s not my ears anymore.

The bar patrons scatter looking for a way out of the heat and to safety. The bartender shouts to follow him, I leap from my seat to do so but bodies rush past me to get there first and I’m left behind. The others that were also left behind gather around the windows trying to break free. I join them hoping that I’m small enough to slip out only to find steal bars blocking our path. We’re stuck. 

Tears fill my eyes and smoke swirls in my lungs. This isn’t the fire I was hoping for tonight. Through the hazy glass and my foggy tears, I see a speck of red on the street. Amy stands just outside, her hair done up, her lips painted red and she looks beautiful. She actually came like she said she would, but she’s just a little too late.

I can’t help but stare at her like I did that first night. Her neck curved up to look at me, horror clouding her amber eyes and her mouth open in a scream. All I can hear is buzzing the flickering of flames. Heat tickles my thighs as the fire inches closer, too close for me to even hope of escaping now. I wish I was down on the streets with her running my fingers through her mane of flames as we watch the place that has become our home ignites. 

When they find me my body will be black and burned, just like my heart is with love. I never got to say that to her and now I never will. My mouth opens and although I know she can not hear me I don’t want to die without having these feelings pass my lips.

I love you. I’m sorry.

One Response to “Set Me On Fire”

  1. Fine work here, Sara-Jane. You’ve found the story in this scene.

Leave a Reply