Fires

1.

I was younger than you are now,
probably by at least two years,
when I told my brother to stick a key
in the electrical socket in our room.
I sat behind him and pretended
we were driving down some highway
when he stuck in the key, and the sparks
shot out blue and white
with yellow traces of flame crawling
up the wainscoting, turning it black,
almost as dark as the room became
when the breaker finally tripped
and set the whole house to darkness.

The stars were buckshot across the sky
outside our square little window
which let in a cylinder of moonlight
while we sat there stunned and blank-faced
as mannequins, our reddening cheeks
waxing in the now-crackling firelight.

Before we could even move, me or him,
let alone call out for help,
our dad came in and pushed us both back
and, in what seemed the same motion, grabbed
one of our plastic swords from off the floor
and knocked the key from the socket
until it lay black-edged on the carpet
like a scrap of steel discarded from its forge.

2.

Years later, when we were both teenagers,
my brother and I and two of our cousins
were pulling Black Cats from the single fuse
that held them together, then tossing
the individual fireworks into a metal lid
that we had pried from a tin of popcorn
which someone had given us that Christmas.
I’m not sure why, but one of our cousins lit
the Black Cat he was holding, then pitched
it into the lid with the unlit ones,
which all seemed to be waiting there
like a nest of angry black moccasins.

The little explosions, cumulatively, were loud,
the noise doubled by the echo from the metal lid.
And this time it was our mom, not our father,
running into the room to see what we had done.

The ceiling was already black. The gray smoke
was hanging around our shoulders and chests now
as it made its slow ascent up and then out of our room
through an open window and then into the yard.

3.

Now that I’m a father, I’m thinking about these things
after you brought a lit candle into your bed today
and left it there—those same flames from my childhood
crawling up your wall as I ran into the house,
the smoke already thick and black,
chuffing up against the ceiling like a dark cumulus cloud,
as if it were being puffed out from a squeezed accordion,
the smoke alarm buzzing, my lungs hot and clenching.
I pushed things out of the way that were within the fire’s reach—
a dresser, a nighttable, some stuffed animals, your pillow.
I didn’t know what else to do.

Then a man who had been doing some work in our yard
was in the room with me, not saying anything
as he sprayed a mist of sodium bicarbonate
from a chipped, red fire extinguisher he had in his truck,
suffocating the fire as though it had never been.
Now all that was left was the thick smoke,
and me still standing there in the dark—by myself
since that man had walked back out, still not saying anything.
I opened the window so I could let the rest of the smoke out.

David Armand was born and raised in Louisiana. He currently teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he also serves as associate editor for Louisiana Literature Press. He has published three novels, a poetry chapbook, and a memoir. David lives with his wife and two children and is working on his sixth book.

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