Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 9

Harry and I went out back to burn some things. We each had a fistful of soldiers, the kind you stand up on their flat, plastic perches before you knock 'em down. I had the matches. Harry had model cement and a roll of caps. He knelt down and placed it upright on a top stone of the garden wall.

"Let's get a hammer," I said.


Harry dislodged a jagged rock, just small enough to hold, from the middle of the wall. He smashed it onto the caps with all his might. Bang! went the caps. Harry lifted the rock and we peered at the smoking remains with consternation. The top of the wall was darkened at the point of impact and crimson flakes of paper had peeled off the coil, but most of the caps were evidently intact.

"That sucked," I said.

"That was gay," said Harry.

"I wanna burn it."

I got down on one knee and took out a match. Surely fire itself would cause the thin bubbles of gunpowder to burst, gloriously, like fireworks; each explosion would intensify the next and build a beautiful inferno, flames creeping toward the eaves.

Harry grabbed at my arm. "You're not supposeta burn 'em! You're supposeta pop 'em!"

"Fuck off." I shoved Harry with my elbow and tremblingly struck my match. I held it under the half-charred roll, trying not to twitch my hand away in trepidation. It seemed to be taking a long time to light.

"It's not even gonna catch fire," said Harry. "There's not enough oxygen."

"Fuck you!"

"You're stupid!"

Just then the outermost band of caps sputtered aflame, the ink burning a pale green. I rocked back up on my feet and moved a step or two away.

Fizzzzzussh, went the first cap. Fizzzzzussh, went the second. Fizzzzzussh, fizzzzzussh, fizzzzzussh. The cap roll sat serenely on the wall, quietly aflame, watched over by a patch of marjoram.

"You're a wimp," asserted Harry.


"God fucking dammit," I hissed through my humiliation.

"Told you so! Retard!"

Harry walked up and absently drizzled the pitiable conflagration with cement. Fire flashed all over the stone and down the wall, and climbed back up the strands of glue nearly to his knuckles. Then he stepped on the caps with the heel of his shoe, putting out the fire just as whimsically as he had fed it. There remained a smoldering husk of charred paper with a coiled core of pristine, unfired caps.

"I have to go home," I said.

"We have to burn some soldiers," Harry said emphatically, as though it were incontestable that his statement would trump mine.

We set our soldiers down on adjacent stones and arranged them in slapdash formation, instinctively in opposition. We showered them with model airplane glue and set the scene ablaze. We stood and watched as the soldiers melted, perhaps imagining their screams. Unnerved by my earlier failure, I picked up one of mine. Its head and shoulders were on fire but its base was untouched and cool. Suddenly he buckled at the waist, dipping his rifle to his feet. His head melted onto the knuckle of my thumb. I threw down the soldier and yelped in pain, clutching my stricken hand against my abdomen. There was now a patch of military green plastic seared into my flesh.

"Are you OK?" asked Harry wearily.

"Yeah. I'm fine."

"Boys! Time for lunch!" Harry's mom yelled from the kitchen door.

We walked back in and sat at the kitchen table. My finger throbbed, half-numb, half-burning. Harry's mom poured us skim milk and I pressed the back of my thumb to the cold and dewy surface of the glass. She made us peanut butter and honey sandwiches with that bland and clumpy peanut butter from the health food store, with the separated oil. On frozen Pepperidge Farm whole wheat bread. They kept their bread in the freezer so that it would last for months. They never bothered to defrost it. Take it out of the freezer, make a damn sandwich and be done. I lifted it to my mouth and felt the slices cold and rubbery in my hands. I peered down at the top slice as it approached. A spongy, gray-brown expanse riddled with sparkling crystals of frost. I bit into it and felt a styrofoamy crunch; the bread bent unwillingly between my teeth. At least there was honey.