The Boy With Fire in His Mouth by William Kelley Woolfitt – Selection 10 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦Three♦ of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2018, I have devoted the suit of ♦Diamonds♦ to stories from the anthology “Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet,” Edited by Clifford Garstang and published by Press 53. More details about this book may be found  at

The Selection: The Boy With Fire in His Mouth – since this anthology includes stories from “all over the world,” when making my selections for Deal Me In 2018, I tried to pick ones from somewhere I didn’t know too much about. This one was set in Uganda, which I have only touched in my reading history via The Queen of Katwe, the story of the unlikely chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, later made into a feature film by Disney.

The Author:  William Kelley Woolfitt. According to the contributors section of the book, Woolfitt is currently a professor at Lee College in Tennessee. You may find a little more about him at his page on goodreads:

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Boy With Fire in His Mouth

“She said she had been given a treasure, the knowledge of how to let everything go.”

This is one of the shorter stories I’ve ever read for the Deal Me In Challenge over the years, checking in at just about a thousand words. We hit the ground running with our unnamed narrator receiving a call from his father that his mother had died (“in her sleep, unexpectedly but peacefully”) and thus he flies off to “the country of his birth,” Uganda.

His father reacts to his mother’s death almost as if he is happy to now be free to do whatever he wants: “…now he could eat, drink, and make merry.” The narrator laments that he hadn’t seen his mother again and thus “given her a final chance to tell me if there was anything I could do to make her happy, anything that was within my powers. Though she did’t believe she should be happy, or that I had any useful skills. She considered me a selfish middle-aged nobody, no wife, no child, no spine, no guts.”

Sadly, the narrator’s father dies too, only a week later, and largely from the excesses of his “newly unrestrained” lifestyle. Our narrator, perhaps is some mild form of shock, wanders Kampala, drinking waragi (a new word I learned this week), visiting the Kasubi Tombs and the marketplace – the latter where he sees the performer of the story’s title, “The Boy With Fire in His Mouth.” He also meets a woman with many children who he tries to help. She makes greeting cards and he goes through a mental inventory of all the things his mother would have done to help her. He thinks of the performer boy, whose lips he has seen to contain sores from his “art.” He wants to give the boy some petroleum jelly to help with the sores.

And that’s about all there is to it. In the contributor’s notes section of the book, the author talks about how Meredith Sue Willis advises writers to cut a third of the words from a first full draft because “trimming intensifies expression.” Woolfitt notes that his first draft of this story was about 2,300 words long, and included “more details about the narrators rakish father and austere mother.”  He concludes that that draft seemed like “a blabbermouth party guest, yammering for attention.”

His trimming of the story left me with more questions than answers. I can certainly understand that the death of just one parent would leave one reeling, and both- well that would seem to – at least – double the impact. I’m not sure what the narrator will “learn” or take away from this sad “homecoming,” but hopefully he will rise above the low expectations that his mother held where he was concerned. We don’t learn in the story where the narrator currently makes his home, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

Below: The Kasubi Tombs in Kampala

kasubi tombs


  1. vidyatiru said,

    March 7, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    that is a short story indeed 🙂 and i love when we learn new words and new somethings from these short reads.. i learned a couple of new words this week myself from the story i read –


  2. Dale said,

    March 7, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    One of the big fascinations with short stories for me is how much an author can pack in to relatively few pages. Yes, sometimes there’s not enough and sometimes there’s too much. But when its just right, there’s nothing better. I love novels, too, but there’s just something unique about short stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. March 21, 2018 at 11:14 am

    This challenge sounds fun! Especially since I love playing cards🙈 It’d be fun to incorporate it into my reading like this!


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