The Object of Heat by Jackie Shannon Hollis

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Editor's Choice, March 4th, 2019

"Heat travels faster than pain."

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Personal Essay by Jackie Shannon Hollis

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          She tells me to twist the black knob so the white letters that say high are under the arrow. She tells me to use the can opener to open the can. Put the green beans (slimy, already cooked) into the pan, the liquid too.

          Chin barely to the top of the stove. Don’t ask too many questions. She’s busy. Doesn’t tell me how fast coils heat. Doesn’t tell me not to use my hand to see if the coils are hot enough.

          Heat travels faster than pain. Then I scream once, but don’t cry.

          Lesson learned: even if the burner is black it still cooks (canned green beans., fresh palm of a six-year-old).

          She wants me to know how to cook.

          We eat dinner at the yellow Formica table in the nook of the kitchen. The table edge is wrapped in a metal band with tiny screws like stars. My brothers and sister don’t ask about the burn. My sister forks green beans to the side of her plate, cuts pork chop into tiny squares. I press the tip of my finger into a star. It hurts, it feels good.

          Right hand wrapped in Neosporin and gauze, I don’t ask for help with the knife and pork chop. I have a good left hand. We always eat something like this: meat potatoes gravy vegetable (canned or frozen) salad (canned pear with a dollop of Miracle Whip and grated orange cheese, or canned pineapple ring with a scoop of cottage cheese and a dollop of Miracle Whip, fancier with a sprinkle of paprika).

          After dinner she puts his plate in the oven on Warm-Bake. I don’t have to do dishes. I carry them to the sink anyway. My sister puts in too much soap and the bubbles foam like a bathtub.

          He comes home during TV and homework. We’re on the floor, bellies down, knees bent, feet kicked up books and papers spread around.

          He sways at the door.

          What did you learn today?

          Nothing.

          I turn on my back, sit up. Hold my hand in my lap so he’ll see. He goes to the kitchen, takes out the plate (dried pork chop, gravy like wrinkles, green beans mush). He sits alone in the nook, eyelids half down, chin close to plate, looks past us to the TV.

          Back to my belly. Pencil in good left hand, pencil marks on paper. Homework is easy and done. I unwrap the gauze from my bad right hand. It hurts now.

          No one told me that burns match the object of heat, blisters in the shape of coils rise like pale worms. I press them. Pierce them with pencil lead. Liquid runs down my wrist.

          This is my first burn, this is the first time I won’t know when to pull back.

          Leave that alone, she says. Let it heal.

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Header image courtesy of Meagan Boyd. To view her Artist Feature, go here.

Jackie Shannon Hollis is the author of the forthcoming memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story (Forest Avenue Press, Oct 1, 2019). Her short stories and essays have appeared in a variety of publications including: The Sun, Rosebud, Slice Literary, High Desert Journal, and VoiceCatcher. Jackie facilitates writing workshops, through her local library, for people experiencing houselessness. She lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon.

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Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.