My legs pump the pedals of my Huffy in the sticky heat of a late afternoon in summer. The strange humidity makes sound seem muffled, and thinking is difficult. The sky is bruised and dying. I know exactly how it feels.
I notice my rattling bike chain is perfectly in rhythm with the footsteps of a black dog walking toward me. Weird how stuff works out like that. I slow the rhythm, hoping to slow the dog. It doesn’t work. Looking for other things to compare the rhythm to, I pedal on to the playground.
Thankfully, the playground is empty. Way too hot. Nobody wants to play in this weather. I imagine a hundred kids in a hundred houses. Sticking to leather couches, playing Metroid in front of oscillating fans, feeding pet gerbils and petting their loud, squawking cockatiels. Laughing and lisping like idiots, with Kool-Aid stained lips. I hate every one of them.
The middle of the basketball court is where I stage my crime. Flat ground for a hundred yards in all directions. Plenty of time to ride away if anybody tries to approach.
Ten feet to the left of a charred spot on the court, I take off a red backpack and unzip it, full of twigs and leaves. Pull moms lighter out of my pocket. Hold it up to the dim orange sun and look through. Nearly empty, I wont need much.
I am on autopilot at this point. Piling the sticks and leaves in what I believe to be the most flammable structure in existence. In my mind I imagine how the fire will trace along the twigs. I memorize how I believe the leaves will curl into one another. Take extra care to leave enough room for air between the pieces of wood.
I pick up a short twig and light the end. It takes a little while to make it catch fire. I love the way the background blurs when I focus on the flame and the way it eats away at the stick, one fiber at a time. I think the only way to truly understand the structure of something is to watch it burn. I think I would be so much wiser if I could just watch myself burn. Just once, just so I could know how my fibers fit together. Then I would understand.
Now my twig is burning and this is my favorite part. Smoke curls straight up in a world with no wind and this twig is slowly dying, but for a reason. This twig will die marvelously, and take others with it.
I slide the burning end of the twig under the others, into a nest of dry leaves. I imagine their surprise, lying together all quiet and peaceful, until a damned burning stick comes into the picture and all Hell breaks loose.
The leaves smolder and blacken and curl until a small flame stands on top of them. There I am, standing on the leaves. That’s me. The flame licks and eventually swallows two of the nearest sticks. Exactly like I planned it. This is where we get to see how the world works.
They don’t even try to get out of the fire. Content to sit and burn to ashes. As one burns, it passes its fire on to the next. These filthy, despicable sticks kill each other, one at a time. None of them object. These burning sticks remind me of people in so many ways. I name each one. Names of people at school, friends, teachers, everyone I can think of. Some of them I name twice or three times.
I sit next to the fire and draw my knees up to my chin. The fire grows hotter and bigger. Sweat rolls off of me and drips onto blacktop, I watch it evaporating into thick, choking air. Burning embers float up and stick to my skin, scalding for an instant and then gone, an instant of the life of a fire.
Tears (from the smoke, I tell myself) flow with the sweat. I study my arm and the patterns of the tiny hairs. I stare at my pores as the sweat pops up through them. It is so unfair. So much inside, needing to get outside through such tiny holes. It would take a lifetime without fire.
I stand up and the fire is knee-high. That nosy bitch in the blue house across the street is standing on her porch, on the phone. That’s fine though, I should be leaving anyway. I kick the fire at its base and it turns to smoke instantly, scattering ashes and char across the blacktop, as I knew it would.
Her husband is walking across the yard, towards me.
I get on my bike and ride away in the other direction. I imagine him chasing behind me, stepping to the rhythm of my bike chain.