This story was first published in The Southeast Review (Issue 29.1)
On a sidewalk in Port-au-Prince, a girl wearing a golden evening jacket fried griyo in a pot of oil over a tiny fire and made jumbles of tablèt out of brown sugar and shredded coconut. Chickens squawked and pecked the concrete ground cracks, and children with bloated stomachs and orange tinted hair ran barefoot down the muddy path.
The children fled when the angry mob gathered in the street, yelling, “Kill the Macoute! Kill the murderer!” They were pushing a man whose body was covered with wounds, bruises and blood. A loud voice ordered to hold his legs and arms down as a tire was necklaced around him.
Before I could say, “Jésus, Marie, Joseph,” flames were licking his body and clothes with their burning tongues. Oh, the pretty colors, I thought before my brain finally registered that the man was screaming, jerking with flames that stripped flesh from his hands. He stretched his neck, wept and twitched.
I imagined his skin crackling from the heat, the fire sucking the oxygen out of his lungs to help feed his inferno. Sweat grew like crystals across my brow as the man’s hair shriveled and tore away.
From the balcony, I couldn’t see all of it, but I knew his muscles were melting, and that he would soon be a pile of dark grey ashes next to sewage washing through the shacks. His clothes burned and smoldered around the bare, erupted meat of his back.
I stood there on the balcony, gasping, throbbing and covered in sweat, and a weak sob leaked from me. I suddenly became aware of another warm, living body next to mine. My mother reached out and hugged me.
The man’s skin was gone. From his hands, his arms, his chest. His shirt had melted into him, taking skin with it as it dripped onto the ground. “Popular justice,” my mother murmured. “They kill all the Macoutes.”
I never learned who this man was. They didn’t reveal his name on TV that night, but they did mention that he had been one of Baby Doc’s spies.
That’s when I started having the dream. I’m always standing on the roof of the Palais National, watching the girl making tablèt. I know that safety lies behind me. But I always step off the edge and fall.