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by Calla Smith

In the tired emptiness of the restaurant, Miles could hear the buzzing of the flies as they made a claim to the endless lines of unoccupied tables. Even the kitchen was quiet without the roar of the brick ovens. He could feel the painful passing of every second. Each day only marked the bitter end to all the years the place had been open. If the dining room remained empty, it was only a matter of time before they would be forced to close for good.

It wasn’t fair, he thought. That grey intersection of old brick buildings long since coated in smog housed four restaurants, and they all offered the same time-worn food. The other three were thriving without effort, throngs of people still finding their way off the beaten paths to fill them with light and warmth.

He flung the cloth he had been using to fruitlessly clean the tables into the sink, and the cook looked up from sharpening his knife to send him a cold glare. Even the cold stove seemed to push him outside, out onto the street corner to smoke while he waited for the final minutes to tick by so he could go home and fall asleep on the couch just as he had the day before. The air was sharp against his skin, ringing from distant laughter as a siren sounded deep within the maze of city streets.

Miles let the cigarette burn down in this hand, the glowing ember getting closer and closer until it almost kissed his skin before flicking it into the trash can. He turned back to his post behind the empty counter inside. The hinges were shrill, and the bell fixed to the door frame jangled in his ears like laughter at a cruel joke. The sound was so overpowering that he didn’t hear the initial gust of hot air from outside. He could only see the bright rush of flame that shot up into the sky and feel dozens of eyes suddenly focused on his back.

Miles stood there, frozen, so close to the tongues of fire that his cheeks grew red, and a warmth like something he had never known spread into his heart. The trash was transformed into bright, daring flowers that filled the night with the sweetest perfume he had ever smelled.

He was transfixed until the cook rushed to put the fire out, but not until a young couple had stopped to help. They were escorted into the restaurant with promises of dinner on the house. As if attracted by the woman’s bright laugh, a family wandered in, and their young son explored the uncharted territory under the tablecloths. And then there was a large group of tourists, and he found himself stumbling over the foreign words he had learned so long ago.

Somehow, after that small blaze that left him with butterflies in his stomach, they had the best night in longer than they could remember. It was as though a simple spark had been needed to breathe life into those old walls. The head had made the worn wooden furniture no longer run down, but homey and comfortable. The next night, their good luck continued, and Miles could finally allow himself to believe that the place would hang on at least until he had finished the university and could get another job.

But as soon as the feeling of slipping down the edge was gone, business slowed again. Something was missing; he could feel it.

One morning, as he rode the bus to his early classes, a streak of bright orange raced across the pavement. There had been protests in the area, and they must have set this fire as an attempt at a road block, but the driver was not going to stop for anyone. The bus rolled over it, and as Miles smelled the burning rubber, he felt the bright colors call to him like sirens. He knew there was no longer any other choice.

There were opportunities waiting for him at every deserted intersection. After a long day in school and listening to the buzzing flies, he casually dropped a lit match into a gutter covered in scraps of paper, watching from the shadows as they smoldered in the oppressive air.

He wasn’t surprised when all the tables were full the next day, and he spent his shift darting over the well-worn floors. He was more alive than he had ever been, and the restaurant would live on, too. The next time he heard sirens, they would be coming to put out the inferno he left in his wake.


Calla Smith lives and writes in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She enjoys reading, cooking, spending time with friends and family, and continuing to discover all the forgotten corners of the city she has come to call home.  She has published a collection of flash fiction What Doesn’t Kill You, and her work can also be found in several literary journals such as Five on the Fifth, Comic Daffodil, and Bottled Dreams among others.

Calla can be found on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.


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