Crane. Fox. Dragon. Unicorn. First day of school. Lost tooth. Father-daughter dance. Holding her in the emergency room.
The first time he burned one, it was a mistake. It fell from the mantle into the fireplace and he forgot the face of his mother. A chill went through him worse than any winter he could recall. Little paper figurines more previous than gold, no salable value, given to him like a present and a curse.
The next time he burned one, he released himself from the job he lost. Then the marriage he poisoned and the house he could no longer afford. It was cathartic. Therapy. A bottle to warm his gullet and bad days to keep the hearth burning. He didn't even miss the bricks. He no longer knew anything better than a rusted oil drum.
But the streets are rough and kindling is hard to come by. Can't start a fire without a spark. Those lyrics kept him warm on a Tuesday and then never again. So did his father, his sisters, his senior prom, his daughter's prom, her phone number. Who needs a father pickled in gin, unshowered and unshaven with more baggage than a dozen shopping carts could carry?
But he still has needs. Things that anchor him to world when he isn't shaking like a leaf in October, busking for the next bottle to get him through the day. A few pieces between him and the gibbering madness that stalks the parks, tosses meds, yells at cops until they shoot or lays down on a bench like an unlit pyre. Some are more immediate--food, new used clothes, warmth.
It is cold now. The shelter closed two hours ago. Can't bring hooch into the shelter. Or the cart. He can burn an old blanket. But he needs a spark. So he must choose. Crane. Fox. Dragon. Unicorn. The paper can't be uncreased, but in the folds forgotten are a lifetime that was worth having.
He takes a sip from the bottle. His stomach turns. He clicks the lighter, makes a choice, and continues the undoing for another day's purchase on this cruel earth.