Lucie Bonvalet’s flash fiction piece “Signs” explores burning, desire, and climate change through the dual lenses of a Spanish wildfire and the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. An excerpt is included below. Read the full story in SAND 24.
Fires turned the sky black on the third day.
Shortly before we were evacuated, I took photographs: one part of the sky above my head black, thick. The color spread like ink in water.
In the movie I watched yesterday night, a young woman catches on fire. It takes place at night, in a field of long grass, by the sea, in Brittany. People are gathered around a beautiful bonfire. The green hem of her long crinoline dress catches a low flame.
For one or two days before being evacuated, we knew the fire. We watched the flames from a distance on the hills nearby. We tried to predict which direction it was taking. But we could not smell the flames. Our sky was just faintly veiled.
In the movie, it is not clear at first whether the woman knows she is on fire. She walks slowly among people, oblivious to the flame in her dress. But her face is lit different, vibrates, juxtaposed against night. Her calm gestures become urgent. Her blue eyes, blacker.
Why this urge to photograph a burned sky?
The moment I decided to take pictures coincided with the moment I admitted to myself I could no longer breathe freely. The air, too thick, too warm. The taste, a multitude of small agonies, nonhuman.
There is always the possibility that the young woman deliberately sets herself on fire. From our vantage point, from the other side of the bonfire, it’s hard to tell.
Lucie Bonvalet is a writer, a visual artist, and a teacher. Her prose and poetry can be found in Phantom Drift Limited, Catapult, Puerto del Sol, 3AM, Hobart, Michigan Quarterly Review, Entropy, and elsewhere. Originally from the Dordogne, she lives in Portland, Oregon. This piece appears in SAND 24.