When I was at the glorious age, too young to ride a bicycle and overjoyed to cruise the cove on my Big Wheel, my younger brother and I played with fire. Actually, he was my older brother but the youngest of my siblings, leaving me with the permanent nickname, “Doc’s Baby,” since my father was a surgeon.
Having a ten year gap with our older siblings, my younger brother and I ate meals in a separate room in front of the fireplace. It was a fabulous set-up allowing us to discover the variety of colors flames created. During warmer months, we were lucky enough to have candles on our miniature dinner table. We burned napkins, wrapping paper and Dixie cups, unwanted brussel sprouts and string beans. Even our leopard print hearth cushion caught on fire a few times. We made wax art with soda bottles and melted crayons.
When we got bored with burning, we created new condiments. We mixed into Ketchup bottles everything left on the table, including the unwanted beans and radishes and hot sauces. We didn’t taste our experiments but laughed our heads off, all the same.
Early on a Saturday, my brother woke me so he could show me how quickly matches burned in a Charles Chip cookie container. After lighting several dozen, we decided to go outside and ride our bikes.
“Where’s Momma?” I asked.
“She’s not here. We’re all alone,” my brother said.
Just before leaving the room, I got the clever idea to cover the metal container with my grandmother’s bedspread to keep it safe. I put on my white, go-go boots and we headed outside.
In an adventurous mood, I recommended we go beyond the end of our cove. We turned one way and another, until we were completely lost. Nothing looked familiar. There were new sounds in the foreign neighborhood.
“What’s that noise?” I asked my big brother.
”It’s a police car. He’s chasing someone,” he said.
“Let’s follow!” I said.
“No. We’ll get arrested if we do that,” he said.
Even though my big brother thought it was a bad idea, I convinced him to follow the sirens. They led us to the end of a wide hill.
“Hey, that’s our house,” he said.
“No. We don’t live anywhere around here. Why would the sirens go to our house?” I asked.
Sure enough, firetrucks led us home. I felt relieved and confused at the same time. The firemen were amazing to watch. I couldn’t help getting excited about the whole thing. They carried hoses across our patio and stomped around, determined and fast.
A young firefighter noticed me and asked in an irritated tone, “Are you the kids who were playing with fire?”
“Who me? It must’ve been a very small fire.” I didn’t think matches counted as actually being irresponsible.
“A neighbor called the fire department. She saw flames rising from your window. Why did you leave the house without telling your mother?” the firefighter asked.
Well, it ended up we weren’t alone that morning, after all. Somehow, my brother and I woke up before everyone else. Momma was taking a shower when we left.
My brother and I were grounded, which meant we had to sit in a leather chair all day long. We weren’t allowed to talk, either.
My oldest brother strutted across the den and grabbed our experimental bottle of Ketchup. We tried to stop him, but since we weren’t allowed to speak it was difficult for him to understand our warnings. He poured the dark brown mixture of Tobasco sauce and unwanted greens and crusty condiments onto his sandwich.
As he shushed me for shouting, he took a big bite to go with that adorable, “Smokey and the Bandit,” Burt Reynolds attitude he flaunted. Needless to say, our time-out on the leather chair was extended.
I couldn’t believe my fortune when Grandmomma’s furnishings were replaced with a pink Holly Hobby decor and a fancy new headboard with a cushy mattress. Certainly, no excuse for starting a fire.
I incorporated my fire starter experiences into an accident caused by the protagonist in my nymph fantasy. An intuitive, passionate eighteen-year-old bravely faced the unseen forces destroying earth by entering parallel dimensions to solve the mystery of why a mystical book caused people to vanish, experience the thrill of romantic love, and reconnect with her wood nymph spirit. Like me, she didn’t intend to be a delinquent. Fate and all the supernatural powers of the universe invoked a punishment on her that was more fitting than a few hours in a time-out chair by forcing her into the enchanted underworld of Florida.