Modern Life

I set fire to everything I owned.

Modern Life
Photo by Adam Wilson / Unsplash


Using the extract below from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) as inspiration, write a story based on the theme of modern consumerism.

"Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”

I set fire to everything I owned.

I set fire to all the paper.  It made sense to get started with the paper.  I burned the old chequebooks, the crispy receipts, the furled and puckered bills, the red rabid final demands. I burned my driving licence and birth certificate; I cackled witchily as the Decree Absolute was licked by flames.  I set fire to birthday cards from dead relatives and birthday cards from lost friends.  I set fire to her hospital paperwork and his lifetime service award.

The smoke wound upwards into the night sky.

I hauled the furniture out.  Cushions, throws, blankets, towels, cloths, sponges: up they went.  The fire made surprisingly short work of the sofa but took ages to eat the armchair.  I twisted my ankle wrestling the rug out through the patio doors and when it finally burned I said, Yes, that’s right, burn as though it had affronted me and it was receiving its comeuppance.

I emptied sack after sack of clothes.  Jewellery, too — even her heirlooms.  They spat and fizzed in the flames.  I watched the toe of a slipper curl like a Chelsea smile.  His ugly jumper.  A beermat from The King’s Head.

Flowers from vases.  Pictures from walls.  Lamps from alcoves.  Everything must go.  Her old toys — I swear I heard Barbie shriek, like a dumb peroxide Joan of Arc — and his golf clubs.

Make up.  A loofah.  A toilet brush I’m frankly glad to see the back of.

The books were the final things.  I didn't rush them to the flames like I did with everything else.  I have burned up all the evidence of a life so far without hesitation.  But the books lay scattershot on the lawn.  God.  This is like euthanising a pet.  I looked at the mound of earth half-occluded by the flames.  He’d understand.

I fed each book in, even those I hated.  Each book committed to the flames one at a time.  Goodbye. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

All the books now burned.  Their pages crackled farewell.  Behind me I knew the house’s stripped skeleton stood.  It could do nothing to me now.

Sirens.  The warp and weft of blue.  Of course they came.  I stood in front of the wall of flame and, finally — finally