After Sakae Manning
The heart, her heart, hovers only a few feet away, burning, an acridity like boiling chicken livers, fills the hall and turns the space into a slaughterhouse.
You are the last two — or the first, depending on how you look at it — in the gallery as the night winds down or the new day begins, plagued by visions. She has been burning for hours, greasy flames licking against the concrete ceiling, a pillar of fire in the darkness and a spreading column of ash as day peeks through the windows, mingled smell of cooking meat, burning fat, pop of entrails and eyeballs, a mouth swung wide as a gate behind the soundproofed glass. Self-Immolation of the Artist as a Young Woman, reads the placard. One night only.
The wine is gone, the cheese likewise, the band packed up and departed, only the two of you and the head of the collective nodding half-asleep propped against one white-washed wall. Strangers to each other, you do not speak, do not make eye contact, merely stand in witness as the fire dies down, rings heavy on your fingers, glasses light and empty in your hands.
There will be a small item in the arts section, later; written by someone who found the exit before your last quiet vigil. Pretentious, they will call it, self-serious. Desperate for a reaction. The ceiling fans spin nearly silently, carrying the last tails of smoke out and over a city that sleeps undisturbed.