Once upon a time, two Americans fought in a burning house. Flames raged all around them, crackling and roaring, pine studs in the walls popping explosively, furniture engulfed and hissing fumes of heated chemistry. The human voices of the belligerents harmonized with the noise of the fire, their shouts of hate and rage. They blasted each other with their fists and their feet and their profanity, fury risen in them to degrees like unrelenting piety.
“Screw you, you miserable bastard!” cried the first, as he punched the other man’s face.
“No, screw you, you scrofulous cur!” said the second, a foot hurtling toward the other man’s crotch.
The kick sent the first man flying through a swinging door. He rolled into the kitchen that was all ablaze, the smoke alarm on the ceiling still shrieking as it had been all along, still ignored. He jumped up, the hair on his neck and arms smoking, and charged back out, tackling the man who’d sent him thus, a shoulder blow to the ribs. The two of them rolled across the rug, a once-gorgeous tapestry, whose weave unraveled beneath them, melted away, blackening to ash as its threads curled into maggots of glowing red. Embers flew. The combatants staggered to their feet, rising into smoke-filled air, breathing it in, needing it to sail their hateful curses despite the agony it caused.
“You started this!” one of them proclaimed. He struck the other a blow in the eye, which sent the man scrambling backwards into a wall. Bits of ceiling fell like meteors.
The half-blind fellow hit the wall and was dazed a moment, but he saw through the flaming bits of ceiling that there was a fire extinguisher hanging on the opposite wall. The metal cylinder beckoned him, bright and red and promising. “Yes!” he cried. He leapt for it, snatched it off its hook and then flung it at his assailant. “Take that, liar. It was you!”
“No, you lie,” the other spat back, diving out of the way of the hurtling missile. “It’s you!” He scrambled to his feet straight away and retrieved the heavy cylinder for himself, throwing it back as hard as he could. He threw himself right after it, and both men crashed into the wall again, bouncing off and falling once more to the floor. More ceiling meteors fell around them. He managed to wrestle his way on top of the other and grabbed that fucker around the throat. He choked and choked, thumbs driving in. Despite the pain and the coughing fits, despite the smoke that seared his lungs, despite the panting misery of each wretched breath, oblivious even to the melting flesh of his own body where the heat devoured him, nothing could steal the strength from his grip, from his glorious triumph as he crushed down upon the other’s windpipe.
The man beneath him, feeling that tremulous yet determined deathlock around his neck, bulged about the eyes, tried to beg, kicked and gagged, his hands reaching and flopping about him, stirring up embers like crimson fireflies as he sought something, anything to strike the man off of him before unconsciousness snatched victory away. Then he found the telephone lying nearby, the buzz of its dial tone calling to him, as steady as it had been since their fight had knocked it to the floor some long time before. He groped for it, touched its searing hot plastic, clutched it anyway, his savior, and swung it upward with all his failing might. Its bell sounded a single note as its bulk thudded against bone. The dial tone went out. He was on his feet once more.
And now he leapt upon the other, the melting phone in hand, his flesh steaming. He bashed and bashed down upon that man. And yet, somehow, the other man got away. So they fought some more. They fought and fought and fought. Neither ever giving in. Until the ceiling fell. And they both died. Their last gasping words finally in agreement, finally true:
“It’s all your fault!”