spork press . oeuvring
archive of printed pieces
archive of online stuff after 5.7.11
online stuff before 5.7.11 (poetry) (fiction)
nothing to see here
audio / podcast
submit to spork
FB   ///   TWIT

Oven Boy by Sam Martone

When he was a child, his father didn’t coddle, said Let him loose, thinking if the boy touched a hot stove, he’d pull back when the red coil of heat kissed his nerves, lesson learned. But when the boy, having just taught himself to stand, heard the sizzle of his flesh, he did not withdraw his tiny palm, but pressed his other hand to the burner, too.
     This explains his shiny shrimp-pink palms, his latex-smooth fingers, absent of all identifying marks. I could get away with anything, he jokes. When he touches me, it feels like nothing else. It feels like gloves made of skin, being touched by a river made solid but somehow still running, a sky turned inside out.
     What it doesn’t explain is how he can take leftovers from the fridge, reheat hot wings just by rolling them around in his hands. It doesn’t explain the steam that chimneys from his skin when he sinks into a bath. It doesn’t explain why his stomach glows like a coal when he’s on top of me. I wake up with hickeys burned onto my neck.
     Some days he’s just a man with burn-scarred palms. Other days, I come home and he’s all knobs and dials. He’ll have a jaw that swings open like a door, a light lighting up the roof of his mouth, and I can see his teeth through the clear of his cheeks. I tell him I want to crawl inside but I can’t, he says, it’d kill me. I think I can fit, I say, and some days it’s true.
     He’s a master cook, an expert baker. Cookie crumbs collect in his hair, clumps of melted chocolate in his pockets. I see a mouse scurry around his foot, up the cuff of singed jeans. Don’t you feel that? I say. I pound him on the back. He clanks and more mice fall from his sleeves. He scoops them up, breathes preheated breath on them. Chars their tiny bones.
     One night he goes down on all fours and I cook stir-fry on his red-hot spiral of spine. He kisses my kneecaps. Puts a hand on my leg, slides it up my dress, but it’s starting to burn. Too hot, I say, even though I don’t want him to stop. The meal is slimy and inedible. We try to choke it down, laughing. I slide a frozen pizza into his fiery mouth.
     We move from our apartment to a little house with a real bedroom, a kitchen with a stove. In the middle of the night, we skinny-dip at a nearby apartment complex. He turns the deep end into a hot tub. We stumble home wet and laughing, but when we fall into bed, he’s already dry. The neighbors have peacocks. They wake us in the morning with their cries.
     Some days he’s cool enough to touch. Other days, I put an egg timer on his shoulder. I put on oven mitts, touch him all over with undextrous hands. I try to make him come before the timer dings. I can feel his warmth faint through the quilted palms. Oh, baby, he says, Oh baby. I want to use my mouth but I know he’d burn me. It’s happened before. I couldn’t taste for weeks.
     When his belly glows sun-orange I put my fingertips to it, tell him I want to be his partner in crime, but I can’t hold them there long enough to ghost my prints. After I come I try to crawl into his mouth, but he pulls me out by the ankles. There has to be a way to be closer. I tell him I don’t want to find mouse shit in the bed anymore. He shrugs and turns on the television.
     Slowly, I’m learning to cook. We split meal duties evenly now. Mine are not the three-course feasts he simmers to perfection, but they are edible, tasty even. It helps to have a stove—I can cook without making him crawl on his knees, light the fires in his lungs. He glances into the kitchen. If I burn myself, suddenly he’s beside me, putting quickly melting ice against my arm.
     He should’ve been made of stone, he says. He could’ve cooked mammoth. But instead he’s stuck here with plastic dials all along his collarbone. Heat that hums from some distant power source. I wish I could stick my head in myself, he says. I say. Things here aren’t that bad, right? He thinks I’ve been spending too much time in the kitchen. He turns back to the TV.
     One night, he wakes up to find my side of the bed empty. He goes out to the kitchen and sees me lying naked on the floor, holding my feet up to the open door of the oven. Warming them. The heat is making the air quiver. He pulls me out of the kitchen, sits there rocking me in his arms, trying to keep cool. I remember none of this.
     When I come home the next day, he is slouched against the counter, the toaster oven in pieces beside him. He tries to smile at me. His teeth look like charcoal. I reach into his mouth and pull metal shards and fragments of glass from his throat. What did you do to yourself? I ask, but I see the toaster oven door in his hand, the bite taken out of it. I see teeth marks on the refrigerator.
     Every day I find more of our house gone, boiled away. I find chips of fine china in the baked potato, strips of cloth in the pot roast. I make myself a sandwich when something in the pasta cuts the inside of my mouth. He looks at his hands like he is wondering what they are for. I realize I know so little about him besides his heat.
     You don’t even need me anymore, he weeps. His tears turn to vapor before they fall from his cheeks. I crawl over the scorched and chewn tablecloth to him. I open his mouth and climb inside. He doesn’t stop me this time. I curl up on the silvery rack of his tongue. I tell him, Come inside. Come in here with me. You won’t believe what it’s like.
Sam Martone lives and writes in Tempe, Arizona, where the summers make him feel like he is turning into an oven.