The Happy Circumstance of Your Mom Being Gone

Argent came over to hang out with us the day that Liz Chaplin got my friend Jippy to tell me that if I asked her out, she’d go out with me.

“Using gasoline as an accelerant isn’t that crazy,” Argent said. “I know that people make a big deal out of not playing with gas, but if you’re not an idiot about it, it’s fine.”

We looked at Argent with looks we wanted him to read as “what are you talking about?”

“I mean, you guys light stuff on fire anyway, right?” he said.

We all nodded or intoned a low ”yeah.” Argent made the gesture you make with your hands in front of, palms upturned, akin to a shrug, that says, “we have to admit that I’m right, don’t we?”

“I do it in my garage at home all the time, and I’ve never gotten caught, never burned anything down. Like we have this hole in our garage floor, and I found this old metal pipe that’s this long,” Argent held his hands 12 inches apart,” and I put it in the hole, and then pour some gas in there, drop a match down it, and boom, shoots fire almost to the ceiling.”

We all laughed, against our will. I laughed against my will. Argent didn’t hang out with us, which had been fine with us, or me, because he felt unmanageable. He wore clothes with sports insignia. He followed, and considered himself a fan of, specific professional sports teams, for reasons that we, or I, couldn’t understand. I could understand why someone would enjoy sports, but I couldn’t conceive of how someone could choose a particular team to follow.

“I do that in my garage, without anyone finding out. And my garage is connected to my house, unlike yours.” He waved a hand around to draw our attention to the structure whose threshold he stood inside. ”Not to mention the happy circumstance of your mom being gone.”

Jippy shook his head like he was trying to swing a spider off his nose. We called him “Jippy” because his younger brother called him “Jippy” because his younger brother even at eight years old could say only the words “eggs” and “gun” clearly,

“Cool,” Jippy said. “Lighting gasoline on fire sounds cool. I’ve mystified my mom by burning off several cans of PAM cooking spray. Do you know PAM brand cooking spray? It creates a pretty neat blowtorch if you use it in conjunction with any kind of kitchen lighter. The ones with the triggers. But that was a few years back.”

He shook his head a few times. Jippy’s default vocal attitude made him sound like a gameshow host at a cocktail party.

“What I think is really cool,” Jippy said, “is your jacket. You support the Bulls’ basketball team?”

“Yeah,” Argent said in a way that made it obvious that he was wondering where this line of questioning was headed. We were all wondering where this line of questioning was headed.

“I couldn’t help but notice,” Jippy said, his eyes focused at a spot five feet left of Argent’s knee. “I guess because I supported the Orlando Magic for awhile when I was 12. Because a basketball team with magical powers sounded ideal to me. Basketball without magical powers seemed fine, just not quite as interesting.”

Argent stepped back into the garage. He picked up a roll of paper towels, rolled several off into a bundle, and lit this on fire. He tossed the flaming bundle onto the ground in a gravelly divot in front of the garage. The sheets unballed themselves a bit as they flared up, then turned to leaves of ash-paper that glowed orange, then turned black and crumbled in the breeze.

“Very cool,” Jippy said. “Even devouring some paper towels, fire truly is an elemental force, and inspires, in me anyhow, both awe and respect.”

Argent ignored him.

“See, lame,” he said. “Without an accelerant there’s no flair to it. You want to feel the heat on your forehead, some sweat. Get your own personal sprinkler system going.” He took several jumpy steps backwards and grabbed the gas can.

Another spasmy bout of head-shaking overtook Jippy.

“Picking up that other thread of conversation, I actually went so far as to buy an Orlando Magic baseball cap. Then I was unsurprised but still disappointed to confirm that the team possessed no magical powers. I never bothered to learn the name of a single player on the team. I found the hat several months later, in the wet part of the basement, under a have-a-heart-trap, ruined. All moldy. The little stars of magic around the logo, that accompany and signify magical deeds accomplished, all black with mildew. As was my love for the team the hat represented.”

Argent tore a train of paper towels off. He soaked the remaining roll in gasoline.

Jippy’s stream of language and Argent’s determined series of actions worked together to incapacitate me.

“Let’s light these,” Argent said, in a voice that made this seem unassailably reasonable.

“I tried buying hats that had nothing to do with sports teams after that,” Jippy said. “I tried to wear hats that someone in James Herriot’s Yorkshire might wear.”

“Shut up, Jippy,” I said.

Argent twisted the loose paper towels into a sort of fuse. He poured gasoline over the fuse. He ran the fuse to the roll.

Jippy moved towards Argent as Argent stuck his hand into his pocket and retrieved a lighter. The rest of us stood there or sat there.

“Don’t light it,” Jippy said. “I tried the indirect approach, but I think you should stop. All that’s required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”

Argent kicked Jippy in the knee. We stood there. Argent lit the paper towel fuse on fire, the flame ran to the paper towel roll, which grew like a bush of flame. The dry grass around the front of the garage caught fire. The overflowing contents of the trashcans just inside the garage caught fire.

“Stomp it out,” I said. I was walking towards the garage.

“Don’t,” Jippy said. He pointed to the gas can, which sat just a couple feet away from the trashcans. “That’ll catch in just a second.”

We moved away. The gas can caught and exploded, threw flames further into the garage. Our bike tires expanded then exploded. The whole garage was on fire.

Argent walked over and stood next to me.

“I love Liz,” he said. He walked to the street and away.

We moved further away from the garage, as sweat grew on our faces. The flames from the garage burned without any concern for our opinion of them. They danced as if we were not watching.

“Argent will probably get arrested for this,” Jippy said.

We all just nodded and sat there.

Reuben, who’d been silent this whole time said, “I think I love Liz, too.”

I told him to shut up.

Jippy walked over and stood in front of me. He was about to say something when my mom pulled up in the car and the push mower exploded.

The Happy Circumstance of Your Mom Being Gone

The Teachable People of Sweetditch

Sweetditch had a community center until it burned down. At one time it sat next to the library, less than a block from Main Street, on Route 100. The basketball courts lay behind it. Jacob Ulster took the blame. The gasoline fed fire started the night he lectured on primitive gift economies in the community center. At the time, the local high-school employed Jacob in a research post. His grant-administered contract stipulated that he had to deliver “at least one improving lecture per quarter to the teachable people of Sweetditch.”

His previous two lectures had both ended in riots. A lecture on folk singing had inspired Sweetditch to rise up and take hold of famed local banjoist Twitch-Finger Rollins and nearly offer him as a sacrifice unspotted to atone for their sinful neglect of communal singing. When they made their way out of the center for the monument to the Unknown Lady, where they intended to shed Twitch-Finger’s purifying blood, the crowd had a hard time describing what their intentions had been. They dissipated, some going home, others struck with a dull impulse to drink and sing “Oh My Darling, Clementine.”

Jacob’s next presentation, on the rocking chair’s place in rural culture, resulted in his audience’s destroying the “dead” folding metal chairs the center offered, and forming a posse to seek and destroy any and all chairs incapable of the true solace found in the rocking chair. Again, once the crowd passed out of the hall, they regained their senses, with a veiled hankering for something they couldn’t recall. More than a dozen citizens slept on their porch swings that night, “for a change of pace.”

Only fifteen minutes into Jacob’s presentation “Some Interesting Observations About Primitive Gift Economies That No One Needs to Get Upset About or Take Too Seriously”, the social fabric had come apart. The people rent their garments and prostrated themselves, horrified at their dependence on a system of currency that destroyed the bonds of community. Finding no ashes, they resolved to set fire to the community center, which they now viewed as a tumor grown on a sick culture, dependent as they were on the government to create meeting places for them. They could then blacken themselves with ash and repent properly.

The center also housed some of the town’s landscaping equipment, including a number of gas cans. The flames started in the auditorium. A pile of rocking chair remains—replacements for the metal folding chairs destroyed several months previous—served the mob’s purpose. As the fires continued, the people fled the building, and once again found themselves unsure of what had just happened. Some even recovered their senses enough to make attempts to fight the fire, but once the fire reached the gas, the crowd’s previous intentions carried through. A confused mass of people watched the building burn to ashes.

It took months to discern the exact cause of the riots. Finally, Jacob Ulster was held responsible, but not-guilty.

The Teachable People of Sweetditch