To Get a Fire Going

The boy didn’t want to sit through Sunday school. His father, the preacher, said he must, so he sat on one of the steel folding chairs that circled an abused rectangular table. Seven other children wiggled or slouched in their own chairs.

A young man with broad shoulders and rough farmer’s hands sat at the end, his bright red hair illumined by the morning sun coming through the translucent basement window above him. Earlier that morning, the boy had seen the young man’s father pointing at him in the hall. The young man had kept shaking his head again and again. His father’s hands pointing more and more. The boy thought about his own father when his mother had forgotten the cash at home after they had made the hour’s drive to the discount grocery store. Both men pointing and pointing.

Next to the boy, Shelley jammed her pen in a little hole between the table top and the metal band riveted to the edge. “I’m making a pocket,” she whispered. The boy liked sitting by Shelley. He liked her legs and her white tights, but he already knew he wasn’t supposed to think such things in church.

The boy doodled on his Bible story lesson sheet about Jonah and the Big Fish. The story reminded the boy about Pinocchio, when Pinocchio and his dad are trapped in the whale and they build a fire so the whale coughs them up. To be stuck in a whale, what an adventure, he thought, and looked around at the cement block walls painted sky blue. The young man moved forward in his seat and opened his mouth, but then sat back again without saying anything.

The boy sighed and started doodling again. Big “T” spaceships battled little “t” spaceships, shooting lasers at each other. The boy always let the little t’s win. He began to sing quietly to himself, “It only takes a fart, to get a fire going; And soon all those around can smell it in its stinking.” Shelley giggled, recognizing the praise song. A little louder, but still drawing and looking down at the fight he was creating, the boy continued, “That’s how it is with my farts. You want to pass it on.” The rest of the children laughed and began to hum the tune they had sung earlier that morning during music. The young man leapt to his feet and grabbed the boy, lifting him out of his chair as though he weighed nothing. The boy’s head knocked against the concrete wall. The pain was quick and so sharp he peed a little. He hoped Shelley couldn’t see.

“I can’t stand him,” said the young man, who kept pressing the boy against the wall.

The boy saw freckles on the young man’s face he never noticed before. His feet hung in the air. He looked around the room at the other children. Shelley’s head was bowed and she was slowly shaking her head. He looked at the blue wall and imagined lying on his back staring at a cloudless sky.

Nathanael Myers lives and writes on a mountain in Utah.

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