Episode 2: Built Like a Brick Shithouse
Moonlight glinted of the head of the Bic lighter. The tight hinges of the portable toilet held pressure of the molded plastic door against my back. The smell of lighter fluid burned out the odor of waste sitting days in the sun, and I wanted my money's worth. I wanted to see the whole unit melt like a plastic bucket. The fumes of the lighter fluid made me light headed. I stood back to let in more fresh air. My hands slicked with sweat, and my thumb didn't want to flick the bic's wheel the right way.
“Come on lets go.” Gerald yelled from the window of the SUV.
“Not until I see it burn.” I whispered to myself.
I felt the ridges of the lighter embed in my thumb. When I tried to spark it again it slipped from my hand, skipped of the rim, and dropped like a rock. I heard the gurgle of the water as it was accepted with the sewage.
I sulked from the tree line back to the Blazer. Dense pine trees stood around like skinny people after a U2 concert.
“Does anybody have another lighter. I dropped that one.”
Gerald and Sonny glanced at each other and laughed. The dim interior light looked smog covered at the last of sunset. The bass of a rap song drowned out the lyrics, and Gerald held up his hands open-palmed.
“That was the only one.”
They looked at each other and started snickering again. I tore into the console and started digging through loose CDs and empty cigarette packs. The speakers buzzed when I pushed in the dash lighter.
“What are you doing?” Sonny asked.
A lock of brown hair touched his eyebrow. His hallowed face broke through the shadows of the backseat like a diver coming out of water. He looked at me with a grin of amusement. A belittling grin where the corners of the mouth don't rise above the top lip. I found a piece of paper and wrapped Gerald's registration in it.
“I am going to try and catch this paper on fire with the car lighter.” Bass came back to the speakers after the button of the lighter popped out. When I jammed the tear shaped end of the paper into the coils the thin line of fire moved up the crinkles slowly without producing a flame. I blew above the ash like a mother blowing on a child's cut.
“I think I got it.” I said and moved back toward the plastic toilet. No one stole from me and got away with it.
With my left hand I cupped the fire to shield it from the stream of wind I would create from walking. Part of a flame rose when the fire hit the twisted knot that looked like an oak root. I rubbed the paper on the walls in the pattern of the cross, and nothing caught. I picked the can of lighter fluid off the floor, but it doused out the flame. I threw the paper into the pit. It might as well have that too.
When I ducked into the passenger seat Gerald turned the radio down. They wouldn't want to do what I was going to tell them to do.
“Well?” Gerald asked. His cheeks hung low on his face and drooped below his jaw line.
“Drive to the store. We're going to get a lighter and some matches.”
“That didn't work either?”
They both laughed as Gerald put the car in drive and we did a three point turn to the street. Anger built in me like a Pepsi bottle that has been shaken too much. My finger nails dug into my palm as I clinched my fist.
“Your going to make us late for the movie.” Sonny said. His arms rested on his knees and his head poked through the seats.
“Fuck the movie. It will be playing every night this month.”
“Why are you so hellbent on setting this thing on fire?” Gerald asked.
“I told you he owed me money. I don't work for free. That son-of-a-bitch owes me one hundred and sixty four dollars, and I am going to get it one way or another.”
“Is it worth a hundred and sixty-four dollars to go through all this trouble?” Gerald asked.
“I tell you what, you give me the money if it isn't worth all the trouble. Then we can go to your faggy Beavis and Butthead movie without another word said.”
Streetlights flitted across the hood as we made our way into Ingles' parking lot. Empty rows were painted on the concrete slanted like dried fish bones.
“Didn't you bust the back axle of his truck then abandon it in Inman? Sounds to me like you might owe him some money.” Sonny said.
The car pulled up into the fire lane, and I had the door open before we stopped.
“When you become the magistrate then you can make your own fucking ruling. Until then lend me five bucks since I didn't get a paycheck this week.”
I held my hand up in the silence. Sonny huffed, and the back seat made raspberry sounds from the friction of his jeans as he moved. The bill landed in my hand with a hard slap, and I slammed the door of the car on my way into the store.
I knew my actions appeared illogical as the large box of kitchen matches and a two pack of Bics trundled down the conveyer belt. I was owed for the twenty hours of work, and I didn't ask for that job. The cashier smiled at me like she was trying to remember my face. As she handed me the receipt I snatched up the bag. Closer to the exit I heard the boom and vibrations from Gerald's car like a whale singing for company.
“All right. Let's go, let's get this over with.” I said
I thought they didn't hear me. There heads bobbed to Tupac's new disc, and their hair created static with the drooping headliner. Gerald rolled through the parking lot then peeled his tires into the street. I let my window down and the smell of honeysuckle wafted by me like the passing of a pretty girl. I hoped the music would carry us to the deed. With my cohorts lost in the emptiness I could get it over with without any more questions. A mile or two before the pull off, Gerald turned the volume down with his remote control.
“You sure you want to do this? You haven't committed arson yet? This is new for even you.” Sonny said.
“If I could get a little help this would go much more quickly. You know, like I helped you catch your step-mom cheating on your dad. And I helped you break the back window out of Jeremy Bergoins car for stealing your stuff. Co-operation. Teamwork”
They were almost finished laughing by the time we pulled into the construction site.
“You act like we haven't been in this same situation with you a hundred times already.” Gerald said
“Egging the police station after you got that ticket.” Sonny said
“Stealing from The Pantry when they wouldn't sell you a pack of cigarettes.” Gerald said.
“Destroying Jamie Brooks house while I screwed his chubby sister. He just beat you gambling.”
“So what you are telling me is that you guys are used to stuff like this. So this shouldn't be much of a problem?” I asked
“Alright. I will help you out. Turn the car around so we can get out of here quicker.” Sonny said.
He crawled out into the sound of crickets fast and shrill. I held the front seat up and gripped the block of matches in my hand. The gravel was new and hadn't washed away yet. Our footsteps crunched like we were walking in light snow.
“What do you want me to do?” Sonny asked
“Hold the door open while I try to light it on fire.” I said
Sonny didn't watch me. His face was pointed toward the ground like a hostage who fell asleep tied to a chair. One of his feet faced the car, and he was crouched like he was ready to run. I lit the kitchen matches and laid them near the rim of the seat. Their flames wafted from the draft before dying. I rubbed them on the walls, threw them in places where lighter fluid had pooled, but everything had evaporated. What was left in the can dripped out onto the seat when I turned it upside down. When I put a match to it it burned off quickly and barely singed the plastic.
“Dammit.” I yelled as I threw the matches to the ground.
“Come on. Speed it up.” Sonny said.
“The lighter fluid evaporated. What am I supposed to do.”
Sonny let go of the door and it thwacked me in the back. I lit another match and set the whole box on fire. It produced a good flame, but died out as well. Tension crawled up to the base of my neck. I punched the wall and stomped out to the ground.
“Well?” Sonny asked.
With all of my weight I ran into the door. The two by four base resisted like a tackle dummy. I charged again and the toilet rocked back, and when I moved away for another wind up the portable toilet lurched forward, and fell on the door.
“There. Are you happy?” Sonny asked.
My heart pumped and my hands shook. I didn't feel relieved at all. I kicked the roof and didn't even make a dent. Then the smell caught me. It stuck in the back of my throat, and when I exhaled it was like a burp I could taste. I stepped away and my shoes felt slick as they scraped across the ground.
“Don't tell me you got it on you. Shitfoot. All these months you been goin round cleaning up other people's shit, and now you get it on you. I told you Shitfoot. I told you when you started this stupid job you would get somebody else's shit on you. And now your Shitfoot. Hoppin round like it was a surprise.”