Joey's dying made me want something hot and dangerous. Maybe that is why I lit that fire on McClintock Street. I put tables over trash barrels full of crushed newspaper. One in each corner, connected by a stream of gasoline. Then I chucked a lit match in each barrel. Not long and the flames were impatient, wrapping the walls and steadily approaching the high ceiling. The fire was alive on top of the floor of the warehouse, like hands on bodies. The next day, walking home, I saw neighbors, everyone in town, sweeping ash up off of their driveways and cars.
You never really think that anybody you know could be blown to perfect bits. You never really think that the guy who pumps your gas at the station will wind up dead.
In homeroom I drew circles, stars, and a fish on the desk, chewed gum. During morning announcements, the Vice Principal gave us the news. No details, just that Joey had been in a restricted area of Fort Norton and that there had been an explosion. I drew trees.
What made me like Joey, at first, was that he could put out a candle between his fingertips. I met him down in the sand pits, behind the liquor store where we all went to ditch school. Joey didn't go to school often. He had a car and a fake I.D. that he used when he wasn't in the mood to steal. His hair was long and smelled like leather, smokes, and gasoline because of his job at A-Prime. Joey knew all about cars and which ones of the dump would take someone furthest.
I did whatever I wanted, those couple of months with Joey. All I wanted was to be doing what Joey was doing. And Joey wanted to go all the way. We used to do it every day. He was mad that I'd done it with other guys, but he'd done it with lots of other girls.
The first time we did it we were out in the woods next to the sand pits. Rick, Pat, Theresa and all them were around, but we didn't care. Joey said it didn't matter what they thought. They were never going to do anything with their lives. Joey made a Molotov out of the bottle we'd been drinking from and a scrap of my shirt. He slammed it into the bulldozer near where Pat was standing. "To us," he said as I pulled the straps of my bra back over my shoulders. That was when I saw the burn, the smolder in him. Leaves by the wheels of the bulldozer were up in flames. Pat stomped it out while Joey kissed at me.
We lit fire to lots of things. Mail in mailboxes. All of the pictures of ourselves we didn't want people to see. Piles of old mattresses at the dump, the heaps of overdue books people leave outside the library. Places too: like Donovan's field. We lit up the tall, dry grass on the hill, and it took them all day and three fire trucks to keep the fire from spreading into the woods. We did the tool shed at the high school. There were gas cans in there for the lawn mower and tins full of paint, all kinds of flammables. We lay, bare on the hood of the car on top of George Hill, listening to sirens and watching the sky above the shed. It was like fireworks to see.
We got away with all of it, everything, and still had time to steal bottles and smokes. But Joey got sick of doing little fires. He told me he was bored out of his mind and couldn't stand anything anymore. That was when I decided we should do that old warehouse on McClintock. It had ceilings that seemed a mile high, and the whole place stacked to the roof with cracked tables and chairs, heaps of damp newspaper and stuff. We climbed in through the smashed window. I noticed the place smelled like sawdust and bugs, but Joey didn't care. He was thinking about something else. He lit his Zippo and set it beside us on the floor, spoke in a low voice and touched my face. His dark hair shined. "Do you want to?" I told him there was nothing I'd rather do.
Joey decided he was going to Fort Norton for explosives. The fort was closed down, but Joey said that if you knew what you were looking for, you could find bombs and things. Plus it was easy to get in. Even though the fence was electric, there were spots of it that didn't touch ground, and if you were careful, you could slide right under it and into the fort. He wanted me to come. I told him we should wait longer because I wasn't sure we were ready. We didn't even know which cop would be on patrol. Joey said I was trying to back out and wondered what he was doing with me. I was too young for him and probably going to wind up like the other girls: pregnant and stuck in town, nothing special. He grabbed his jacket and said he was going with or without me. His feet dug deep into the rocks along the tracks as he made his way toward the car. I could hear him revving his engine and backing out onto the street full speed.
That was the last I saw of Joey. The next night I packed up my backpack and burned down the warehouse. The whole thing in a blaze. I remember the fire and how it spread and moved and seemed alive on the floor. It stretched, grasped for something, anything to ignite, something to consume, to touch and take over. With the leg of a table, I smashed every one of the windows I could reach and fed the fire with wet cold air. It thanked me with black smoke.
When I heard the engines, I ran. I ran like my legs were wheels, or tires. That's how fast. I ran like my heart was one of Joey's fixed-up engines.
About the author:
Jennifer Cande is founding co-editor of Quick Fiction (www.jppress.org), and her work is forthcoming in Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction (Mammoth Books '03).