After Burner

I slide out of the steady stream of motorbikes and ease my scooter onto the tiled sidewalk. I halt, and peek.

The hotel where we landed so gently months ago on the left. The low plastic chairs, stainless tables, steaming giant metal pot where we had our first true pho, dead ahead.

This is a bustling street. Restaurants, shops, impossible alleyways all beckon. Kerfuffle, sound, fury.

I’m taking it all in, when I spot the slender dark-haired woman, with fire in her hand.

She’s gently pinching a white piece of lined paper, handwritten notes in blue ink defining the red lines. At first I can’t tell why it holds my gaze, but then I see.

A whisk of flame, nibbling the corner, dancing, threatening to gasp and whimper away

but a breeze brings the fuel it needs.

The paper catches and, with a satisfied look, she leaves it on the concrete to burn.

As the tiny wisps of smoke climb across the street,

I have questions.

Is this an attempt to lure lucky spirits?

Meant to whisk away bad omens?

A note from a lover, spurned?

Soon-to-be deleted evidence of wrongdoing?

Her way of recycling?

This seems like the best spot for this

she must be thinking.

Unflappable, unfazed, she retreats down the stairwell into her nail salon below the striking blue sign


Leaving only the paper and me, this tiny spectacle. I can only stare as the flame builds then fades in a matter of seconds.

Soon, only ash, the fire out.

I’m still so puzzled.

And then, she returns, this time with a broom. She coaxes the ashes into her pan and retreats yet again.

And, now,

There is a charcoal stain on the sidewalk

and on my brain.

Published by Radutti

Teaching in Ha Noi, screwing things up daily but surviving to write about it. ...everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

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  1. The imagery and brevity with which you write is truly breathtaking. When will your first novel be published? Or has it already? This small moment bursts with intrigue and deliciously curious detail. Gorgeous. Thank you, again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Well, I appreciate the kind words as I’ve never really considered myself a writer. Last year’s Slice was the first time I really wrote consistently like this, so who knows where it’ll lead. Enjoying your posts as well – always well crafted and apropos to our lives as teachers and parents. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aha, I’ve seen them do this several times in Vietnam, I forget exactly what they are burning and why now. Is it fake money for ancestors? Maybe something like that….I like your vivid description of the whole event and your puzzlement!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your writing of this scene drew me totally in. Great use of detail, suspense, and wondering…this would make for a wonderful novel introduction, as Lanny intimated!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a powerful slice. I saw it all and the ashes. You leave the reader with many questions some of them similar to yours. However I add my experience to it, what I know about African beliefs (juju) and how and what it means to many. If l am right, it leaves me with what and how people believe. Or could she be using the ashes? More questions- powerful descriptive slice.


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