The air suddenly seemed to recoil from Diego’s lungs. While Liliana’s memories trickled in through the safety of her dreams, his came in a frantic pounding wave, all at once, bitter and stinging, and if he let himself get caught in them, in the torrential swelling that knocked him breathless, they would pound him and tear him and break him into a million pieces. But even as the word fire had perched itself on the edge of Liliana’s lips, Diego was already spinning back there to that corner store on Belgrano, his knees tucked into his chest behind a magazine display as the gasoline caught fire, the flames licking across the linoleum floor as they reached for him with trembling blue arms.
A member of one of the rebel groups had recognized a soldier in civilian clothes as he made his way into the store to buy a pack of cigarettes. Diego, eleven at the time, had made the mistake of walking in behind him as his father waited across the street for his son to carry out the brown paper bag the store clerk had refused to sell him any more of that day. The line to the register wound back to the front of the store and Diego was leaning against the glass window that trembled every time someone flushed the toilet in the nearby bathroom.
There was a loud crack, like lightening striking inside of a tin can, and Diego, hands reaching for his ears, fell to the floor. The tile seemed to shudder as people rushed passed him, the force of their panic steeling him to the ground. By the time he could move again, his limbs were already racked with fever, the tiny hairs along his arms turning to ash, his skin flushing a translucent pink.
He felt the hot glass of the store front window as it gave way, the glowing pieces spilling passed him as someone outside tried to force their way through. He felt hands, cold and dank, wedge themselves under his arms and then he was being pulled from the heat, the smoke swirling fervently around his legs and ankles as it trailed out after him.