Kids of Fire

August 12, 2008

My fascination with fire began at a decently young age, about seven or eight.  It started and ended with matches, the booklet kind.  Any kid could snatch a pack or more at the hostess counter of a local diner, or from a friend’s garage, a back patio, or a glove box.  It was no big deal.  It was a time when most middle-class homes had at least one heavy smoker; when free people were allowed to blacken their lungs and do as they pleased.  With matches in hand, Ross and I went down to Vista Park and into the woods. 

At first, I lit the matches according to directions – pull single match from booklet and strike down firmly.  I suppose I was a bit tentative.  It quickly subsided. 

Soon Ross and I were launching little flaming sticks at each other by the tip of our fingers.  It was a harmless game of dodgeflame and it was blast. Most of the tiny torched arrows missed, but a few found their target; a chest, a leg, the hair.  Ross caught one in the lip and it blistered nicely.  Another stuck to my finger when I flung it and it nearly blackened.  It was then that we stopped and moved on to better things. 

The leaves were just turning then and many had already, prematurely, fallen.  They were crisp and even had a heavy wooden feel.  Some were larger than our heads, and the pile we made quickly grew into a miniature teepee.  Pocahontas would’ve probably wanted to fuck us it was so good.  Of course, I’d have taken first dibs.

We placed the pile of leaves in a barren spot next to an old stump of a half-fallen tree—it had been like that for the few years we had been coming there, and it looked as though it had been brought down by someone older, someone young, someone we probably didn’t want to run in to—and knelt down with our flame.  The leaves caught quickly and Ross and I turned to grab larger things to burn. 


We were eight blocks away when we heard the fire trucks.  When we read about it later we learned 70 percent of the trees in the park had been turned to ash, three houses were destroyed, and a mother and her fourteen-month old baby never made it out of one.  For years neighbors were suspicious but the cops never pin-pointed anyone.  Investigators concluded that a dead tree had been set aflame and that wind, the dry summer, and a number of other perfectly aligned variables were the reason the park burned so well, so large. 


Ross and I never really spoke about the fire or of really anything after that.  We sort of distanced ourselves from that point on.  It was the summer before fourth grade and we had already ruined people’s lives and ended two.  My wife knows about the situation now and perhaps so does Ross’s – that is, if he’s married and still alive.  As far as I’m aware there are only three people in the world who really know, but it still haunts me.  Every so often I think about Ross.  I think about the situation in which I’d see him again.

Sometimes I imagine him on my front-porch.  He’s just rung my doorbell and I get up to answer it only to realize that all my nightmares have landed in one spot in front of me.  I open the door to meet him.  He’s visibly shaken and seems to have been for a long while.  I ask if he’d like to sit down and if he needs a drink, but he declines.  Sometimes I imagine that he has three police officers behind him and when I step out the door they ask – “Mr. Tursey?  Mr. Geryd Tursey?”  It’s the only question they need to ask if they have all the evidence stacked on their side.  Then come the handcuffs and the Miranda Rights.

I’ve also imagined him with a gun.  It’s the same scenario; he rings the doorbell, I nearly shit myself, and then go out to meet him.  Drink? Sit? No, no, okay.  He’s visibly shaken again but this time it’s because he’s about to pull a gun and shoot me in the chest.

Another setting I have is him at my door in a suit and smile.  “Ger!  How the hell are ya?” he asks.  “It’s me, Ross.”  When I step outside he hugs me and looks into my eyes and smiles again.  It’s a warm feeling and I can see he is obviously doing better than me – better in every way.  He gives me brief summaries of school, his job, his wife and kids, but never once mentions the fire.  During a certain part of the conversation I finally realize he won’t mention it, he’s passed it, it’s not part of him anymore.  And it kills me.  But that scenario, I believe, is far from my own good-fit reality. 

I suppose it makes more sense to me for Ross and me to meet up again after all these years and have the same uncomfortable tension between us as when we parted.  I step onto the porch.  We shake hands and look at each other only briefly. 

“How you been, Ross?”

“Oh, pretty good.”

“How you?”

“Well, you know how it is.”



 “You liven’ around here now?”

“No…no.  I don’t really live anywhere, I suppose.”

“I suppose.”


2 Responses to “Kids of Fire”

  1. Paul Says:

    Great story. I can identify with parts of it. Matches – – yes, they were always available. At age 10 I accidentially/sort of set a lamp shade on fire – my mother termed me a “horses necktie”.

  2. Alex Says:

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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