Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Aaron starts a brush fire.

Flash Fiction by Edward Varga
Thinking of starting starting the fire felt good. Aaron didn't remember the book of matches in his car. They were faded, looking like the sun and time had done a number on them, stored in the container set into his car door as a just-in-case action. Just in case what, he never thought about. In a mildly survivalist way, matches in a car for an emergency seemed a good idea. Was this an emergency? He examined the paper match sticks and squared off tips. The name of the Italian restaurant he took them from was barely readable on the cover. The soft thinness of the strike-strip left him thinking getting even one match to light would likely destroy the entire package. This emboldened him. Sure that a fire could not be started with such a poor set of tools, he decided to feed his impulse. Pulling gently onto the shoulder, he waited until the eighteen-wheeler behind him passed. He could already see the flames in his imagination as he set forth his plan.
His car rocked, buffeted by the wave of air pushed out around the speeding semi. Jostled, he caught sight of himself in the rear view mirror. He was smiling. It was a sight that confused and delighted him, all at the same time. What he was planning was a contradiction. Not only was it nefarious but entirely natural, just like sex. Fires have cleared out rotting and dead brush and grasses on this planet for millenia. How could this be wrong? By setting such a fire, he was breaking the law. Definitely a punishable offense. Yet his hand would be acting on behalf of nature, the first law known to man. This surely was proper defense for his actions. He had on his side a creator who established an ordered universe and counted on fire to cleanse and enrich. Plus, he was getting quite an erection thinking about it.
Aaron could now feel the smile on his face. No need to look in a mirror. He knew he was smiling, using muscles in his face and neck he had forgotten existed years ago. With traffic clear, he carefully drove his car in a half circle to the other side of the pavement, pushing it back toward the horizon he just visited. Straightening the wheels and hitting the gas, his lungs inhaled the fresh spring air deeply. In an indescribable way, his car felt newer, the steering wheel cleaner, and the gas pedal firmer. Everything was alive now. Alive with possibility, alive with redemption, all because he got the idea to set something on fire.
For so long, his life seemed desperately mundane. Middle-aged, overweight, without the comforts of a, 'career path,' or 'retirement plan,' Aaron's preeminent emotion had become despair. The root of his problems could not be found with his family. His wife and children loved him, without condition, a fact he should have held in higher regard. Were he able to objectively compare the emotional connection of his sons and wife to him, against those of any other man's children and spouse, he would have understood how blessed he really was. And after so many years working at the same job, should he really have expected every day to be thrilling anymore? Realistically, work was better because it was familiar, easy, and routine. But somehow it wasn't enough. He had lost perspective. Somewhere inside of him was a dark spot, a defect in his soul. No matter what he had, it never seemed big enough.
Aaron drove on, anticipation dripping from his teeth. The car moved effortlessly, without a hindrance to the pending conflagration. The gauges and dials laid before him provided no information of use, especially the red illuminated light just below his speedometer. The light indicated a low coolant level in his engine. It lied. There was no issue with the cooling system. The problem was the indicator. It was broken and it's glow was a mechanical cry of wolf. Aaron knew that and knew to ignore the need to service the vehicle based on the light's warning. What he didn't know was that he shared a commonality with his car.
Aaron had a broken indicator light as well. It told him his life was not fine, enriching, worthwhile, or exciting. His indicator was broken. It lied. Unfortunately a mechanic hadn't yet discovered this defect. Had this occurred, a possibly dangerous and deadly situation might have been avoided. Aaron looked at the matches in his hand, and for a moment the indicator light in his heart went out.
“There it is!” he shouted to no one, finger pointing toward the distance. He saw the mass of brown grasses woven into the spaces of a wire fence running alongside the road. He remembered it specifically, remembered the feeling he got when he first saw it. He tasted that feeling again. This was not the only spot along the fence line where dead vegetation mingled with steel wire. In fact, most of the fence line possessed an amount of dry fuel near its base. But here, Aaron thought, this one place would be ideal for creating soul enriching light and heat and energy from the materials provided by the universe. This place practically begged for a fire, he decided, a fire that based on the conditions, would have seemed inevitable.
If a passer by saw the fire, the explanations as to how it might have started were easy to surmise. He pictured a careless motorist throwing a lit cigarette out of a car window and the wind lifting it to this place. Maybe a beat up pickup truck dragging its muffler would throw sparks at just the right time, bouncing them to the side of the road. Or perhaps a man with borderline depression and a worn out pack of matches acquired during a post-divorce/pre-second-marriage date would pull to the side of the road, wait until there was no traffic for miles around, casually walk over to the fence line, crouch down, find the best looking matches that remained, test the strike strip to see where it's abrasive surface was still in tact, stick his fingers into the grass to form a hole, place both hands with the matches inside that hole to shield them from the wind, check again for traffic, strike one after another of the matches until the grasses began to burn on their own, stay quiet and motionless while listening to the crackle of healthy flames, smile broadly, smell smoke, stand up calmly, walk backward toward the car so he could continue watching the flames grow, become aware that a car could approach at any moment, panic and drop the matches with his fingerprints onto the gravel shoulder of the roadway, painfully bend a fingernail trying to open his car door quickly after seeing a glint of light in the distance that could have been a state trooper's cruiser, pause to admire the mass of orange flame bright enough to be seen in the midday sun, and drive away cherishing the feeling of being really alive that only destroying something can bring.
Instead, Aaron just kept driving past the spot, watching the clump of grass fade and grow smaller in his rear view mirror as his internal warning indicator light began to shine once again.