It starts as a comic premonition. He yoinks the plug from the drain in the floor of the ocean. He mans the big shovel that scoops whole countries at a time. A ravishing storm of flame consumes the sky and is not satisfied and goes looking. His head sizzles with it. The afternoon is dry, bright and crinkly. Small things shudder beneath the fallen leaves. Sparks flicker in the air. The boy crouches in the shade between shafts of light and picks out from the crackling sounds of the dry woods that surround him the fading voices of his friends going on without him. He will catch up with them at the clubhouse. He has just one match. A ragged pile of shavings lies between his knees atop its raft of bark. Hands folded, silent, he checks the wind and contemplates the best way to proceed. In his mind he soars above a mountain range whose contours look like weather-softened women. He rains down flames upon the trembling hills. On his knees in the quiet valley, he folds back the flap of his trouser fly and sets the red and white tip of the match against the rasp of his zipper. The curves of the valley lie back and wait. Thoughtlessly he smacks his lips as the match fulfills its promise, then coaxes the early glow with his warm breath. Flames spread quickly from the raft to the leaf-covered ground; driven by breezes they fan out before the boy as if he were casting them forward toward the houses along the banks. He closes his eyes to soak up the heat on the front of his legs, his chest, his face. A storm of flames ravishes his diffident youth, his fear, his shame, his town and everyone in it.

Copyright © January 13, 2008 David Hodges