|Small Fires (standard:romance, 4099 words)|
|Author: Colombianito||Added: Jan 04 2008||Views/Reads: 1562/896||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|A fire starts burning in a young heart and is extinguished prematurely|
I was dealing with fires at age sixteen. They would start early in the morning, soon after I had filled up the rusty old tanks with gasoline. Elias had shown me several times how to properly fill up the tanks - "only three quarters full," he would admonish me. He had also shown me how to wipe spills before starting up the burners, but I was young and inclined to cutting corners despite the obvious and often materialized risks so after topping off each tank, I would skip the safety-related steps and start pumping air into it while holding a lit match to the burner until a steady blue flame appeared. I would then tuck the burner directly under a metal plate on which a milky mix of water, flour, and sugar was transformed by the heat into beautifully crisp sugar cones. Elias' sugar cone operation consisted of a waist high, makeshift slab of cement with two circular holes in it, one for each burner and its corresponding metal plate, all of this built in a corner of his house's backyard under an equally improvised clay roof that covered just enough of the area to keep the burners from the wind and the rain. Ah, the rain. When it came, my back and buttocks dampened and tensed at the cold droplets that splattered off the edge of the roof, while my face and my chest melted into an incessant trickle of sweat under the implacable heat of the burners. All the while, my mind was quiet and serene as the job was entirely mindless: apply oil to one hot plate to prevent sticking, scoop spoonful of mix onto plate, slowly lower plate cover onto plate and snap together, repeat process on second plate, come back to first plate, peel still malleable flour shell, roll into the shape of a cone, place cone in basket, repeat process as many times as possible before dehydration sets in or before consumption of available gasoline. For the hours I was there, I was an automaton, my mind sparked only by the occasional feeling of dread, and by the fires. As if violently awakened from a deep sleep, in an instant, my otherwise dark corner would light up and I would feel the tug of a million pores on my face, stretched from the sudden hot flare. And in the same automated fashion that I rolled hundreds of cones each day, I would reach for the damp rag I used for tidying up my workspace and take swings at the flame that engulfed the already blackened burner. Some times I would have to run the rag up and down the long burner neck, dabbing it until the flame was completely extinguished. Then, a lovely calm would follow. With the hissing of the burners and the crackling of flour mix on the hot plates interrupted, I could hear my own breathing and I would bask in the quiet and in the manliness and heroism that allowed me to ably avert disaster. That was, unless Elias was in the house at that moment. The old man had developed an uncanny sense for any danger around his facilities and no matter how swiftly and gracefully I handled these crises, he was certain to dash into the yard, arms stretched in front of him, ready to embrace those blazing burners against his bare chest if that meant the rest of the operation would be spared from the flames. He didn't know, or didn't seem to know, of my disregard for the safety steps he had so adamantly taught me. "Are you OK, boy?" he would ask, and his earnest handling of the fires and his genuine concern for my safety, rather than make me feel guilty for my covert sloppiness, made him seem pathetic in my young eyes. Everything about Elias was old and weathered, strained, except for his hair, which was still jet black and which, held together by a permanent buildup of grease, went from a tightly combed, solid crest in the morning to a long and droopy bang that fanned his bulgy, cloudy brown eyes in the afternoon. During my short apprenticeship, as I stood behind his irreversibly hunched figure, watching as those crooked and heavily knotted digits rolled thin disks of dough into cones, I felt profound gratitude toward him but I also became convinced that he needed me more than I needed him. I was young and vigorous and felt that my options were limitless; Elias was frail and tired and couldn't keep his business going without someone doing the heavy lifting for him. For a year and a half, I would live by Elias' and my mother's expectation that I would work for him during every school break. My mom, too, wanted me to do a good deed by helping Elias out and she appreciated the relative financial independence that the job afforded me, as the cash Elias paid me covered the miscellaneous expenses I had as a typical teenager. There wasn't a formal time to report to work in Click here to read the rest of this story (270 more lines)
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