by Catherine Lacey
Hillary’s hair caught on fire during the Christmas Eve service that year, and we were thankful that, for once, something new happened. In the congregation, Hillary’s father fainted, her mother shouted hysterically and somewhere way in the back, a chair was loudly overturned. Hillary rolled her fiery head on the ground and we threw bibles and bulletins at her curly, hay-colored hair, which was crackling into ash.
The next year we didn’t get any candles and no one got to pinch bits of melted wax into little cubes, or run their pointer finger quickly through the flame, showing each other how it could escape unburned. When the lights went down and the flame was passed wick to wick through the congregation of adults, we watched from the dark from behind the preacher. Those of us who didn't know Silent Night by heart just hummed or stared though the black at our songbooks, waiting for the end.
This story originally started as a part of my nonfiction book, We Don't Talk About Things Like That, which is mostly about the Protestant South in which I grew up. One year in kids' choir, there really was a girl whose hair caught fire during a service; however, I realized that if I added some fictive element to the story, I could achieve a more interesting image and something truer than the simple facts of what happened.
Catherine Lacey's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trnsfr Magazine, Bbbok.com, Cousin Corinne's Reminder, Lamination Colony and others. She cooperatively runs a bed and breakfast with seven others in Downtown Brooklyn called 3B.