A lifetime in the confines of a city, moved to the country, something new. On the hill behind the house, to the west, the former owners, the concealers, have left a fire pile. You can burn your stuff in the country? Cool. Had not even thought about that. Visions of M80s. Freedom. Just moved in and we have boxes. Dozens of boxes, lots of trash, moving-out stuff, moving-in stuff, but I can burn it all out here. Tonight. I’ll do it tonight.
It’s December and the fire makes it feel like it’s not. Ah, damn straight. But only for a minute. Wind comes from somewhere, and it feels like December again. Wind comes from the uneven heating and cooling of the Earth, I know, but I mean it’s coming from the west. I have to move around the circle and cover my eyes with the inside of my bent arm. It keeps coming, as if it’s responding unfavorably to my fire. Flaming swirls, and then embers in my face. Whoosh. And ow, damn. It builds itself. It carries things toward the new place, burning things, like cardboard. I’m new to the country living. Glowing paper is landing on the roof. I need a do-over. Asphalt shingles, that’s good, right? I haven’t hooked up any garden hose seeing as it’s winter. I don’t know where one is anyhow. I find a broom and jump high to whack at the flickering dangers on top of the house, drag them into the gutter or swat them out. It’s like the attack of the giant lightning bugs and their spawn, too, to look skyward. Back up on the hill, I scatter the fuel with my foot and broom, all those boxes, and then back down I try to keep the roof clear. Up and back down, swinging my fire-slapper against the wind, hoping nobody sees this. I don’t know the area or who can see what from where but I do what I have to do. New guy. I exhale because the coals I couldn’t reach, way up near the asphalted apex, look like they’ve gone black. The fire is no more and the wind also goes away. The smell stays.
In the country you have your outbuildings. Time and termites really love or hate one of mine, one that I will learn now to do without as it does the gangster lean. But how to make it disappear? It’s the country, you burn it. But something that big? Not at night. Hell no. You do it on a Sunday morning when the majority of the within-eyesight locals are at church. Oops. Did I drop a lighted match? On the straw? In the barn that’s falling down? If I didn’t, somebody did. Doesn’t matter. I have my garden hose. I soak everything around the barn. And thar she blows. Dum dee dum. Ain’t nuthin’ but a thang.
Sir? Sir? Oh shit. Why did they put the public road…why does it have to be so close? Sir? Did you call the fire department? She, the middle-aged nose, has her car door open and one foot on the blacktop. Half in, half out, uncommitted. I tell her yes ma’am, I sure did but thank you for your concern. She drives away–satisfied, I’m thinking. Smoke rolls up into the sky and does this floaty thing over my property, like a mosquito net on a Peace Corps head. And others’ property too, but they’re at church. What an excellent fire this sun-shiney Sunday morning.
Something you don’t hear much out in the country? Sirens. I’m hearing one just the same. A minimum of one. Two is the number of fire trucks screaming down the hill. The fire has maxed out and is on the downside. I make a display of unconcern, taking care of it myself. This accident. They see I have things in hand. I have my garden hose in hand. The volunteer fire guys who don’t need this crap gingerly climb down and out and pay me a visit. I tell them I have things in hand. I tell them mea culpa: I must not have got that cigarette butt extinguished. They tell me a lady panicked into the country deli-store (where the volunteer firemen hang out because, I think, one owns the place) to make sure they got my call. They hadn’t. Didn’t know a thing about it. I ask if I’ll be assessed a fine for the costs. No, he says, but listen: next time you don’t get a cigarette butt extinguished, call first and just let us know, okay?
I deserve that.
One dark night I furtively deduce that a rubber tire will burn so hot and so long that anything in its burning vicinity will be powder before the tire goes out. Sheetrock powder. Probably regular rocks as far as that goes. I should throw one in next time and see. This is the kind of alchemy esoterica that rankles and must be spoken of in colorful and misleading imagery. The dragon seethes, the Elves of Gehenna become one with Oblivion. Only to the ears of the initiated—the Paracelsi and the Ziffels—should these intimate codes be endowed with meaning.
Home alone and I have much to burn. I’ve moved the fire pile to the north long ago, not so far that I dread taking out the trash in winter, not so close as to be a danger. To the edge of our field. Our pasture, I mean. Talk like you’re one of us, son. And light that match. At night, it’ll be just a bonfire. But nobody’s invited. That blackness filling the firmament and blocking out the stars, well, it’s nothing. You’re smelling things again, take your pills.
And then the wind comes. It’s out of the west like it was during the night of my first burn. Misburn. Usually is. It also picks up. It’s springtime, though. Comfortable out, besides the smell, mea culpa. The steady and heavy breeze actually feels good to me. My thoughts are heard, leapt upon, and the steady-and-heavy goes full tilt. Orange coals take to the heights. To the house. To the roof. It’s coming out of the west and the north. Japanese blade-crafters then and now would kill for what I am running around trying to make stop. Furnace-class. Garden hose throttled up all the way and its sputum is turned into a perfume-bottle mist, dispersed with the blazing matter as if it were nothing. Heh. Sputum. But it’s not funny at all. Can’t even hear sizzles, just whooshes. Slaps. Things attached to hinges slamming. The same wind is amputating tree limbs. Detritus from the hillbilly place two miles away swirls within my crematorium, catches flame, and jets off. The grass of the yard and the alfalfa of the field–the pasture–are laid flat, ripped out by the roots. All I can do now is aim at the house, get it as wet as I can. I am analyzing, and you know what? The stars have vanished because the sky is black, true, but it has nothing to do with my illicit, bad-neighbor fuel. Shingles are flying from the roof like clay pigeons. Shrapnel. Sticks, leaves, branches, and Fire. Pull. Up, down, left, right, Fire. Spray the house. Just spray that damned house. The timing on this whole thing has been preternatural. I think Dresden, but only for a second. That’s not fair. Still…. Tornado, tornado, go away. I’ve learned this time. Ok? Ok? The security lights—mine and others—blink dark. In the country are security lights. Not now. A transformer brightens the horizon with its own lightning bugs. In the country are shingles….
The twister (talk like you’re one of us) touches down about four miles away. It skirts me, minimal damage elsewhere, all considered. Neighbors and buildings, distances cozily between everybody and everybody’s. Like they want it. And a less-menacing path for ‘naders in the bargain. The rain brings up the rearguard and snuffs out my stupidity. Tomorrow I clean up the traces of it.
Heaps and heaps of traces.