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Small Fires (standard:romance, 4099 words)
Author: ColombianitoAdded: Jan 04 2008Views/Reads: 1754/1099Story 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 

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 

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 

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