I’d been told to throw the lighter in the trash, not to play with it because fire is bad. It couldn’t be all bad though, right? Man had invented fire for a reason, and I was reasonably certain that arson wasn’t even a thought at the time.
Civilized disobedience would have its way, and I sat huddled in my sandbox, every bit as focused as the lonesome caveman sitting inside his prehistoric domicile rubbing two sticks together ferociously as his lady friend got ready to go help some other dude with something he was calling the “wheel.”
Did she have to wear that skirt? The leopard?
The lighter wound up being less successful than two sticks. Minuscule promises of flame flew as the spark wheel struck the flint, but either the fluid chambers were empty or the elements had rendered it useless.
I found the lighter in the yard, and to this day I’m not sure how it got there. Might have been those idiot teenagers my parents were always griping about, smoking and being a bad influence on us “good kids.” When I found it, I did the honest thing, I told mom about it, and had been given the above-mentioned instructions to throw it away.
What did all fire need? Being an eight-year-old boy, I wasn’t sure, but one thing I knew I needed was kindling. I didn’t have to look far. Lying in the sandbox beside me was a scrub brush, bristling with dry fibers perfect for the ultimate starter fire.
Sparks danced, but did not catch.
I grew bored and eventually gave up, Promethean visions no longer dancing in my imagination. Back to an existence without fire.
When my dad walked in with a scrub brush burnt to the composite bristle holder, at first I didn’t understand.
“I found this in the sandbox, Travis. Do you know anything about it?”
Then my mother sang like a canary.
“TRAVIS DID YOU THROW THAT LIGHTER AWAY?!”
“Yes ma’am.” Because I had, eventually, thrown it away. And to be honest I had a hard time believing I had started the fire that claimed the life of this charred scrub brush.
“DID YOU KEEP PLAYING WITH IT?!?”
My silence damned me.
Sometimes we forget things. I feel like I forget more things than most people, especially pertaining to my childhood. My childhood wasn’t bad enough for me to forget it for any reason, I wasn’t abused or molested or burned with cigarettes.
But every now and again I’ll see something that will trigger a memory, much like the story I’ve just told you. Today that happened.
Let me introduce you to Exhibit A.
Some of you may not know what you’re looking at, but I did the moment I saw it. It’s a cleaning brush that has had bristles burned off it. An inexperienced eye might not be able to see the tiny pigtails that indicate fire has been applied to the bristles, but I can attest, after having a cleaning brush waved around me as accusations and confessions flew, that’s what has happened.
Someone in this house has been playing with fire.
Someone besides me.
And I’m not sure why, but when I saw it I laughed. Setting aside the potential danger of it all for a moment, I enjoyed remembering something about my childhood. About the seriousness in my father’s voice as he told me how I would one day burn the house down and kill us all if I didn’t obey he and my mom.
I could deliver that same speech to Aven—Aven if one day you read this I know it was you—but I don’t think I’m going to. There’s no telling when he did it, and honestly, I yell at him enough for things I can prove he did.
But I think I’m going to replace smoke detector batteries. You know, just to be safe.