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Mindfully Burning
by Martin David Edwards




Erick paused at the village hall entrance. The insurance company had acknowledged his claim earlier than he had expected for a Saturday morning. They had told him that the police would be checking the fire for signs of arson. With no queries, the insurance pay-out should arrive on Monday. He could retire to a country that was appropriately mindful. Costa Rica was a possibility. Sand could trickle through his sandals every morning like silk instead of the gravel on his drive, cutting into his toes like rocks.

He wrinkled his nose, sure he could smell burning, and raised the sleeve of his homespun shirt to check. The smell was coming from its hemp. Breathing in, he visualised a beach and counted to three. His plan was fool-proof and he needed to be mindfully in control.

His lesson booking had only been made half an hour ago. He had considered refusing but had conceded that an alibi for his time might be useful. After today’s session, he could consign his mindfulness teaching to memories.

Erick tucked his shirt into his ballooning, loose-cut trousers and opened the door.

A woman was waiting for him, wearing a black suit jacket, straight trousers and a white shirt. The jacket’s shoulder pads looked like wingtips pointing to her back. She was picking at a loose button on her shirt.

“Welcome to the world of mindfulness,” Erick said. A businesswoman, not an angel, he thought.

“You must be the guru,” Joanna replied. Her fingers threaded the button back through the shirt. “I’ve never been to a mindfulness session before. My boss gave me the idea. He likes to inspire me at short notice, Saturdays included. Sometimes, he forgets I earn too little to be tied to a leash.”

Erick inclined his head. “Mindfulness teaches us that there is a solution to every problem.”

A buzz came from the inside of Joanna’s jacket. She pulled out a phone, her shoulder pads quivering. Reading the screen, she frowned. “Chief Inspectors get ideas above their rank.”

“Is that you or your boss?” Erick asked. Sweat started to pour from his skin.

“Not me. I’m a girl.” A shoulder pad tilted at Erick. “We should turn the air conditioning up to make you more comfortable.”

Erick wiped a glistening droplet from his forehead. “I’m only thinking of the nirvana that awaits us on the path to self-awareness. Please take a seat.”

Joanna sat cross-legged on the floor, her shoulder pads sagging. Erick sat opposite her, his trousers billowing so he looked as if he was floating on a cloud.

“Let’s begin by trying our visualization exercises,” he said. “Close your eyes and see the oneness.”

She opened her eyes and sighed. “I thought mindfulness would be easier. I can only see my boss shouting at me in the office, telling me to solve my cases faster.”

Erick’s bladder began to fill. Soon he would need the loo. “Nirvana comes to those who search hardest. Let’s pretend we’re relaxing in a forest.”

Joanna’s hand returned to the button on her shirt. “I went on summer camps when I was a child. We shared tents and other surprises.”

He nodded. “We’re making excellent progress in the beginnings of our explorations. Keep imagining.”

Her fingers hovered over her shirt. “I can see the trees and the birds covering our tents in poo.”

“Gaia’s creatures.” His bladder relaxed. He was only being paranoid.

Her fingers curved towards him, following the arc of her shoulder pads. “I can hear the flames crackling as we roast marshmallows in the fire.” The fingers straightened, pointing at his shirt. “A cloud of woodsmoke is drifting through the air.” She breathed in. “How delightful.”

“That’s my shirt. Wearing hemp helps us stay close to nature.” He lifted his arm to encourage her belief.

She inspected his sleeve. “Hemp has a mellower tint. I was thinking more of matches.”

Erick’s bladder threatened to burst. He stood up and pressed his hands together in supplication. “Our first lesson must regretfully draw to a close, with promises of further bliss to come. We can see each other next Saturday.”

Joanna fastened the button on her shirt and stood up. “My boss tells me I’m such an under-performer that I’ll need all the help I can get. I was thinking of a lesson sooner.”

“Wednesday?” Erick’s sandals edged backwards towards the door.

“This afternoon would be better with his aspirations for results.”

“The hall closes at two o’clock on Saturdays.”

Joanna followed him across the floor, her shoulder pads tracing his steps. “You don’t have to worry about making an out-of-hours booking. We can use a meeting room in my office. They have several available before the rush of drunk-and-disorderlies at closing time.”

Erick crossed his legs. “I could satisfy your urge to learn, but I have an errand to run first.”

She overtook him, her suit blocking the door. “I need the evening for my washing and repairing time. Everything I’m wearing is falling apart.” She leaned towards him, the shoulder pads throwing dagger shadows under the light. “I blame my boss when we go out to a call. He thinks we’re a superhero duo, with me as Cat Woman.”

“A mindful Cat Woman in abundance.” Erick wondered if his trousers would hide letting his bladder go in secret.

“Meow.” Joanna opened the hall door and waited for him to step through.

“I’ll follow you to your office in my car. I’m a terrible backseat driver, being so mindful of traffic directions,” he said.

“Finding your way across the town will be so stressful for you. We have to take care of our guiding gurus.” The shoulder pads told him to go forward.

“I have to use the bathroom,” he said.

“I’ll wait outside, in case you get locked in accidentally. You did say the hall was closing at two,” Joanna replied.

Erick sought his relief in the toilet. But the waterfall he needed was only a trickle. Outside, he could hear Joanna’s phone buzzing with messages received and sent. He imagined himself stepping off the airplane. With a groan, he managed to grow the trickle into the flow of a minor river outlet.

Joanna greeted him outside the loo with a wave of her phone. “Some people aren’t content with waiting,” she said.

“You could tell them you need to relax at home after your lesson.”

“Make that suggestion after I’m retired.”

She led him to a white estate car in the hall’s carpark. Mud was splashed on its sides in shades of black so that the car looked like a zebra.

Erick flip-flopped to the driver’s side with a longing glance at his own car. The green hatchback was due to be impounded for unpaid debts, but he considered it a friend. Nobody else would listen to his woes, on the basis they were unbecoming for a mindfulness teacher.

“Stay with the passenger’s side. The clutch requires a feminine touch. I’ve put in for a replacement but I’m not hopeful. Budget cuts.” Her shoulder pads shrugged.

Erick had a last-minute inspiration. He padded his pockets theatrically. “In the rush to make your lesson, I didn’t pay for my parking. I’ll have to pop over to my car for spare change.” He rolled his eyes, as if to say that forgetting to pay was a common occurrence in his lessons.

“Parking’s free at weekends.” Joanna unlocked the car with a click of her key fob.

Erick followed the muddy zig zags on the paintwork into the passenger seat. A cone-shaped blue light was attached to the dashboard, next to a radio handset. Stray animal hairs were scattered across the seat with more traces of mud.

Joanna sat in the driver’s seat next to him.

“Dogs go well with mindfulness walks. I’m an Alsatian fan,” he said, hoping to nurture a connection.

“I prefer to exercise my cats. They go better with the superhero image.”

He sneezed. “I’m allergic,” he explained.

“I’ll open the window.”

The glass lowered a notch. Erick poked his finger in the gap at the top. He could unlock the door from the outside, if he was a magician.

The glass rolled back up.

“My boss has tablets to cope with the cats. Open the glove compartment.”

Erick leaned forward and opened the glove compartment, hoping to find a gun. Instead he took out a silver foil rectangle with half the pills already gone.

“You look disappointed. I’m right-handed so use my side pocket for my mindfulness prompter.” The shining black barrel of a pistol pointed at him.

“I was just stretching. I get cramps from too much yoga,” he replied, leaning on his seat.

“Seatbelt,” Joanna said. Keeping the gun pointing at him on her lap, she started the car.

As they cleared the village hall, the radio squelched with a man’s voice.

Both their hands went to the handset. Joanna tapped his away with the gun.

“I was hoping to advertise my lessons,” he said.

“That’s a misuse of public property.” She switched the radio off.


a line, (a short blue one)


Half an hour later, Erick squinted at the windscreen through the fog of his bursting bladder. A blue sign with white capital letters told him that they had entered the police station carpark. Visitors were requested to park at the front and to purchase a ticket, including at weekends.

A policeman waved at the them as he was getting in a car.

Joanna leaned out of her window. “Just popping in with the lodger before our shopping run. I didn’t log off on my computer, being a silly girl,” she told him.

The policeman gave her a thumbs up and reversed himself out of his parking bay.

“The journey has prompted me with a vital truth. Mindfulness teaches us that we have to set our own worth,” Erick said.

“I need the worth of parking sensors.” Joanna edged their car slowly into the vacant bay, straining her neck to see through the back window.

“My own worth is nothing,” Erick said.

“Doesn’t mindfulness say that there is a solution to every problem?” Joanna straightened the car, her shoulder pads lining in parallel with the bay markings.

“You could teach me about solutions, as such a quick learner. I could suggest fifty pounds an hour for your time.”

“Sensors are so expensive to install.” The car parked, Joanna put her handbrake on with a clunk.

“One hundred pounds,” Erick replied.

Joanna tried to open her door and banged the handle against the car in the next bay. “Such a tight squeeze too. I need a newer, thinner model.”

“Ten hours in advance,” Erick offered.


“Mindfully done.”

Joanna released her handbrake and drove off from the police station.

“Where are we going?” Erick asked, a damp patch growing on his trousers.

“I’m driving you to a cash dispenser before we carry on with our lesson.”

“There’s no need to take up your time. I can go on my own and come back.”

“You should be more careful. Criminals are hiding where you least expect them.” Her phone buzzed. She texted a reply, her fingers dancing over the screen. “We’ve had a change of plan. My boss says twenty hours would be too much for me to handle. He wants a mindfulness lesson as well.”

“I’ll check if the hall is free on Thursday.”

“He would prefer his personal lesson this afternoon. I offered to combine his booking with mine. We’re always in search of a bargain.”

The car stopped behind a bus. Erick tried the door, but cool steel was pressed against his knee.

“I was enjoying our conversation so much. You’re more talkative than my cats and not a chatterbox like my boss,” Joanna said.

“Exactly what I was thinking.” The pain from his bladder had vanished. The coolness of the gun barrel had done the trick.


a line, (a short blue one)


On the other side of the town, the car stopped outside a house with a dream catcher hanging in the front window. The gravel on the drive was unscarred by any scorch marks from soot.

“Home, sweet home,” Joanna said.

“Just as I left it,” Erick replied.

The front door opened. A man came out wearing white plastic overalls and holding up a petrol can.

“My boss has decided to do some work for once,” Joanna said. “You forgot to check the petrol before you tried to set fire to your house. Water doesn’t go far with arson. You should have studied chemistry, not mindfulness.”

The man waved them inside the house with the petrol can.

Joanna unlocked the car and pointed her gun at Erick. “We’re so eager for our lesson to begin.”

“What do you want me to teach?”

“How to make an insurance claim with the beneficiaries split half and half, when you try again.”

“A half for me isn’t mindful when you’re burning down my house.”

“You’re so correct. I meant to say half for my boss and half for me.” Joanna nudged the gun at him.

“What do I get in return?” Erick winced as the gravel cut into his sandals. “I’d settle for a drive to the airport if you insist.”

“There’s no need to ask me to help with your escape route. You’ll be mindfully burning,” Joanna replied. “My boss is adding one fatality to the claim. The insurance company told him this morning there’s an extra pay-out for policy holder deaths.”




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