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43% Burnt

Remember that old joke: But Doctor, will I be able to play violin? 

Well ... this ain't it. Not by a long shot. 

43% Burnt by Angel Luis Colon

The doctor reads me the riot act. “You experienced severe burning over forty-three percent of your body, Amy. The worst of it above the waist and neck…”

I tune out the rest. I know about the mastectomy, about the skin grafts and the stitches. There’s no need to get a reminder about never being pretty again or how I’ll eat through a straw or need to drip special solution into my left eye every half an hour until the day I died.

It only took a single look in the mirror to know all that.

“Can I play?” I sound like a drunk.

“I’m sorry?” He’s thrown off his routine—good—I hate the part about my ears anyway.

I actually liked my ears.

“Can I still play cello?” I lick the smooth scar tissue that is my upper lip.

“Oh…well.” He looks at his script. “Well Miss Nguyen, I’m sorry, but the burns were only a part of the damage. The nerves, especially in your hands… again, I’m sorry.”

I nod and fight back a scream. “Okay.” I look over and see my mother clenching my left hand for dear life.

I can’t feel it.

I make tracks to the gym as soon as I get medical go ahead. Scars be damned—I may be ugly, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be healthy.

At least, that’s what I tell my parents.

Nobody bothers me and nobody gets in my way. I have free reign of the elliptical and cable row machines—I’m the scream queen of the muscle-heads. I tape my left hand to the bars to keep my grip and turn my half-gone nose up at any offers of help with a polite, “No thanks.”

The human interaction is a risk. That anger inside me, what drives me to break past the twentieth pull up or the seventh mile? That belongs to one person.

And she’s gonna get paid in full.

“It’s so good to see you out and about.” Anna says. Before the incident, she was my rock—my biggest fan. “It means so much that you came out tonight.”

I do my best impression of a smile from behind the hotel room’s kitchen bar. “Your debut at first chair,” I lisp, “no way I could miss it.” I saunter over to the steel fridge and catch a look at my reflection; a hairless warrior queen in a black cocktail dress. “You want a drink?”

I can see her smile behind me. “God yes, something strong.”

“You got it.” I open the fridge and whip out a bottle of vanilla-infused vodka and orange juice.

“Oooh, my favorite.” She claps like a seal. “Remember how we used to...” She trails off like a pro.

“Used to what, Anna? It’s okay; we can talk about the past.”

“I…I just didn’t want to…”

“Bring up that night?”

I start mixing her drink in front of her and she nods.

“What happened, Amy, you know…”

“Was your fault.”

She looks like I punched her in the gut. “Excuse me?”

“You thought I was passed out, but I saw you do it. I saw you tip the candles over right before the fire ate me away.”

“Jesus, Amy—no, not at all.”

I reach into a pocket and squirt a stream of solution into my left eye. “It’s okay; you don’t need to lie anymore. I understand. We both worked hard for first chair and I got it first. You must have been devastated.”

“That had nothing to do with it.”

“Sure it did.” I slip my right hand around the back her neck and smile. “We were always competitive.” I pull down hard and introduce her face to the Formica bar top.

I wait an eternity before she wakes up. She takes a real look at me for the first time and starts blubbering. Her face is wet with tears, snot and blood and I can’t help but laugh. “You still look better than I did the first time I woke up—and I was covered in bandages.”

“Amy, please…”


I stand up and walk over to her; a huge glass of straight vodka in my right hand. I turn it over her head and let it cascade down. She whimpers and the parts of my body that still can get gooseflesh.

“Oh God…I’m sorry, Amy. I couldn’t …”

I walk over to the bed and pick up the hammer bought special for the occasion—a real mean looking one. A few pulls on a fresh roll of tape and it’s in the grip of my left hand. This is as much for it as it is for me. “You took away the only thing I ever worked for.”

“I needed to make first chair, Amy.”

“Fuck first chair. You took away my ability, Anna. The talent is still there—I could do your entire set in my sleep, but when I tell this hand to do it.” I lift my hammer hand up high. “It won’t listen.” When I tied her up, I took care to strap Anna’s hands to the arms of the chair. I bring the hammer down right on her left middle and ring knuckles and hear a satisfying crack.

She screams so I put on some music—the piece she played tonight—Cello Sonata No. 1 by Brahms. I tape her mouth shut then give her hand a few more whacks. The hand starts ballooning like a cartoon and I swear it might just burst right open if I keep going at it, but I quit while I’m ahead.

Anna’s crying something fierce when I switch the hammer for a single match. Her eyes widen when she notices what I’m going to do—when she realizes that vodka doesn’t smell like vanilla, but it sure does smell like lighter fluid.

I strike the match, let it drop and watch her light up like a star. “Hope that chair’s comfortable, Anna.” 

Angel Luis Colón works in New York City but has been exiled to live in the northern wastes of New Jersey—thankfully, they have good beer. His work has appeared in WeirdYear, Red Fez, Fiction on The Web, and Shotgun Honey. You can follow his grumblings on Twitter @HeckChoseMe. or