That Apocalyptic Humor

for my sister, whose name I stole

Half the city was on fire, reaching long red fingers of infection toward the clouds. The party went on, though, the curtains thrown wide against the walls so the ruddy light might more fully fill the room. Leslie moved around the room switching off lamps, slipping between chattering tangles of men and women, their voices as clattering and senseless as mynah birds. The room grew brighter as the song of the bulbs was stilled. The fire wavered and rippled over the roll of the pianola, sparking through the glasses sweating atop it.

He stood with his back to the window, counting heads and figuring sins. In the firelight they were a demon city, Pandemonium visiting the final days of Rome, ungulate legs hidden in wingtips and sequined pumps, wings and tails pressed beneath sloppy zootsuits and incarnadine low-waisters. With the lamps all darkened they appeared to swim through the apartment, wobbling boozily from table to bar to corner, from window to door to balcony.

A slip of a girl was at his elbow. She was looking out at the city. “So much is gone,” she said, “never to return.”

“What burns, must burn,” he said. She watched the fires.