m i k e    y o u n g

The Fire Hazard


You wrote notes to me in magnet poetry. It was a lame party anyway. People were playing this very racist version of Pictionary. Sometimes I wonder about our friends. We made Bloody Marys and poured them in olive jars, left through the back door and the fence. You wanted to climb, but I wanted to transfuse. You are very punk rock. Me, a sort of gas, I guess.

I took you to the Bird Street schoolyard. We couldn't get our kites over the brick roofs, which was okay because that was a dream and we didn't really have any kites. I woke up with my fingers in your hair and your hair in the drinking fountain. You went to swing away your hangover. This is a good exorcism, you said. You were swinging very slow, to a tune I couldn't hear. I tried to keep an eye on you. Just because I love you doesn't mean I trust you.

Some kids came, knee high to a grasshopper. They wanted to play softball. You said okay and ran the bases—soda cans—very slow. All the kids had plastic gloves.

Their mothers came too. I tried to keep them company, apologized for my lack of cigarettes and chewing gum and jokes. What kind of motherfucker do you think you are, they said, laughing. They seemed easygoing but not forgiving. One lady wore a tank top under her blouse. They laughed a kind of laugh—a loud kind—that smells like popcorn and dreams of palm trees.

Then I heard you yell. Stop them, stop them, you were yelling. You were in the grass and the kids were clouting you with their gloves. They wanted to keep score, but you didn't. The mothers stopped laughing.

We ran away.

Stopped at this one street, near a little estate with orange trees and a wrought-iron fence. A Tudor sort of house. Tuba blues wailed from the second story. People say a lady there is taking her rest cure. She's been stowed away since Abraham Lincoln fell off his horse. When she saw us, she threw down wooden hair curlers and yelled elaborate curses. The house looked like a fire hazard. No, wait. The town looks like a fire hazard.

Isn't it funny, I said.

Isn't what?

How everything's— and I whooshed my hands, like I'd just ruined a pile of leaves.

No. Not really. Hey, let's get some gelato.

Inside, you argued with me about the gelato shop, its place in a town like this. You were for and I against. You called me stodgy. I tripped and knocked over your ice cream (it's really just fancy ice cream), but it wasn't an accident.

Get her another one, the guy said. He had a Jagermeister trucker cap, the deer under the cross. Good eye-talian ice cream, he said.

See, I said?

How was I supposed to be graceful about it? People get pissed off when I'm right. You walked fast, staying a few feet ahead of me. My teeth felt fuzzy. Outside the pawnshop, old men were playing fiddles. Except one: he just kept turning the fiddle in his hands, squinting and clucking his tongue.

You stopped where the street turns into levy. I caught up. On the stone bleachers of the amphitheater by the swimming hole, we hugged an apology. The hug made me feel relevant. Most of the time I feel askance, which is just as lame as it sounds. I wanted us to skinny dip, but you said the water was too cold. Then not one silence, but a messy little cluster of silences: they lodged inside my smile and made it sore.

You sighed and told me to get the stick out of my ass.

We took a bus to the college town. I bought you a bandanna, a scone, and a Joe Strummer poster. It's always funny that you like scones. After I paid and we left, you asked me what else I had in my pockets. Minor chords in scarves were huffing past us, also called strangers. Nothing but macaroon crumbs, I said. Nothing but macaroons and train tickets.

Really, you said.

Sorry. I'm doing it again.

No, that's not bad.

Then hey, guess I'm on top form.

Guess what I'm thinking of? you said.

Ginger snaps, I said. Whenever I think of macaroons I think of other cookies.

I'm thinking of those exclamation marks with the hearts. With the little hearts instead of dots.

Nice. That's pretty bad-ass.

Don't tell anybody, you said. It's not very punk, I guess.

Hey, I said. You know how we do it. I won't tell a single soul.

Then you stopped and sat down on the edge of the sidewalk, planted your boots in the gutter and pointed at someone across the street.

Not him? you said.

Not him, I said. Or him.

Or her.

Or .. that.

Or her. Or him.

And so on, until we were pointing at each other.


On the bus back, I think of gelato. The office supply store is now a gelato shop. This makes me cynical and a little scared. All changes should be run past me. Don't lie. That's how you would have it too. That's how everybody on the bus would have it, if given a say. Don't fuck with me on this one, all right?

A man on the left side sits with a tin lunch box, one hand on the bell cord. You have your arms around my waist, and you're asleep for the fifth or sixth time today. Probably you're getting too much sleep. Everybody else on the bus is awake. Especially me.

We slow down to pass a car wreck. Then we slow some more. Wait, the driver says. Are you for fucking real, she says, which we can hear because it's the only thing anyone is saying.

The driver crunches on the air brakes. Everything squeals. She gets up and runs out.

Now all of us are late. We were already worried. The bus isn't moving, but the engine is so loud.

Out the window, the wreck looks still as a picnic. Two trucks: one with a camper shell and someone on the roof, the other flipped over.

The driver is yelling. It must be someone she knows.

You lay your head against my neck.

How can everything look so bad? There's not even a fire. You'll believe me when you wake up. That's how you are. If it were me asleep, I wouldn't believe you. I would say no, really, it was fine, right? It was just a fender bender?

Shh, I say. I move your head. Sleep. Don't wake up.

There is no trust inside of me. But something, a love, a violin at the bottom of an old well.

Now she's on her knees, the driver is. Nobody helps. Everyone stays on the bus. The seats are hot and dusty.

Now the driver is reaching in. Only she see can see what for.

Do it, I whisper. Pull them out.

All eyes on the driver. The man on the roof of the camper shell is watching her, waving, flapping his arms in the air.

She is reaching. Heaving, pulling, moving backward on her knees.

Come out, goddamnit. Come out, come out, whoever you are.



MIKE YOUNG co-edits NOÖ Journal. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart, appearing in Hobart, Pindeldyboz, Juked, elimae, MiPOesias, Online Writing: Best of the First Ten Years, and elsewhere. His chapbook MC Oroville's Answering Machine is forthcoming from Transmission Press. He lives in Massachusetts.

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