1. Pickles and Cold Bacon
The flame flickered once... twice... thrice... four times... Then it went out.
Without even blinking, Hideto lifted his thumb and brought it down against the thumbwheel of his lighter again. He hated how the ridges on the thumbwheel would bite into his skin but the call of fire was too strong and he did it over and over again. A familiar shade of red floated to the surface of his thumb, growing with the soreness that it felt.
Some nights, he did this. He’d lay down on his hammock out on his balcony and play with his lighter. Sometimes, matches, if he felt like it. There were lots of other places for him to do so and on his hammock out on his balcony probably wasn’t an ideal place due to the strong wind that continuously put out his beloved flames, but the height (eight storeys up) in congestion with the fire brought back memories of days that he wished he could erase and, at the same time, wished that he would never forget.
But which days, exactly, was he thinking of? Even Hideto wasn’t quite sure of that himself. There were days when he heard a little girl crying and, other days, a woman instead. He hated it but clung on to it. They ate at him and saved him. It put his heart – and mind – through a conflict so painful that, at times, the only thing he could do was put himself into a deep sleep with sleeping pills. When he awoke, nothing would have changed but he stuck to his depressing praxis of swallowing the tiny white tablets when the crying in his head got too loud. He hoped foolishly that, one day, he’d wake up and realise that it had all been a bad dream, fuelled on by the pickles and cold bacon that he habitually ate before bedtime when he had been a teenager.
Then again, wasn’t life just one big nightmare that no one woke up from till death?
Sometimes, Hideto wished he had the strength to jostle himself awake.