Hello, Internet! Welcome back to Flash Fiction Friday. Andrea Speed returns with a haunting piece she describes as “sometimes you wonder if you should show this to your psychiatrist.”
Spark Joy by Andrea Speed
Simone had lost track of the days, and no longer cared about it. Whether it was April or September, or Tuesday or Friday, it made no difference, right? Not to her.
Every day was always the same. She got up, still tired, at six in the morning, got ready for work, caught the seven o’clock bus to 23rd and Wright, walked the one and a half blocks to Campbell Finance. She worked, bored by her colleagues, until four, and then she walked the block and half back to catch the five o’clock bus back to Holland Avenue, which was where her apartment block was. She occasionally stopped at the corner shop on the way home, buying whatever struck her mood – chocolate or ice cream or a pre-made sandwich, or a can of fortified wine that tasted like cough syrup fucked gasoline, but made her numb enough to sleep. Then she started the cycle all over again.
She wasn’t lonely, as she never really went for relationships anyway. She wouldn’t have minded a pet, but her apartment didn’t allow them. She was tired of this repetitive, unflavored oatmeal kind of life, but she wasn’t sure what she could do about it. She didn’t have the money to simply quit, and the job market wasn’t stable enough that she had the guarantee of picking up another job right away. Apartments in her price range were hard to find as well. Any way you looked at it, she was fucked.
Vaguely inspired by the current self-help trend of de-cluttering your life, Simone started cleaning out her apartment on the weekends, days when you’d think being off work would change her routine, but it didn’t by much. Once she started getting rid of things, she found it almost impossible to stop. But the rules were if something didn’t make you happy or “spark joy”, it had to go. She owned nothing that did that.
She emptied her main room until there was nothing but a TV, and the appliances that came with the apartment. She really wanted to get rid of the oven, which was a muddy green color she was sure went out in the ‘70’s, but the landlord would get mad, and she couldn’t afford to replace it. She kept her microwave because she needed to heat up food – had she ever used the stove? – but she found herself wanting to get rid of it anyway. Eventually, she trashed her ratty sofa, and sat on the floor after work, watching TV and drinking cans of putrid wine.
Simone started de-cluttering at work too. She trashed everything she could, and hid what she couldn’t throw away in the drawers of her desk, leaving only her phone and computer out in the open. The manager praised her for such a clean work area, which made her want to upend her wastebasket on it. But she didn’t.
It was one night when she was laying on the floor, looking at the twitching lights thrown up on the ceiling by her television, that Simone realized what she had to do. She had to spark joy in her life. Easy enough to say, but when you weren’t sure you were capable of feeling joy anymore, what did you do?
It came to her after her third can of wine.
The next day was just like every other day, but she felt lighter inside, like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Simone no longer had a tightness in her chest that made her feel like every one of her acceptably bland, cheap blouses was too small. Yes, today she had a heavy backpack that was threatening to dislocate her shoulder, but there was something strangely ignorable about it.
She worked as usual, but when the boss said he needed someone to work late, she volunteered. The boss never stopped to think it was weird, since she’d never volunteered before, which was her one fear. But he didn’t care, as long as someone did the work. The actual peon who did it was incidental.
She waited until everyone had gone, save for her, and the janitorial staff, which was down on the third floor. They’d have more than enough time to get out.
Alone on the darkened office floor, the window walls looking into a darkened skyscraper across the way, Simone emptied the backpack of its cans of fortified wine and gasoline. She helped herself to a can of wine while she poured out the gas and the rest of the wine, which she had learned through experimentation was highly flammable. As it tasted, so it did.
She made crisscrossing lines over desks, over Jerry’s stupid bobblehead collection, over the neutral beige carpet between cubicles. The smell started to make her dizzy, but Simone smiled, because she hadn’t felt this good in ages.
She sat back down at her desk, and said, “Let’s spark some joy.” She used a disposable lighter to light up a file in her desk drawer, and threw it out into the aisle, where the gasoline and wine ignited with a whump. The fire spread fast and far, lighting up the office in the same type of squirming light the television had thrown up on the ceiling, only better. She was surprised that the heat was nearly immediate.
She picked up the phone, and finished her wine with a gulp before someone picked up. “Hello, 9-1-1? I’d like to report a fire.” The person was saying something, but she ignored them. “Where am I? Oh. In Hell.” The person was still talking as she hung up.
And for the first time in a long time, Simone laughed.