[Read part one.]
I put on the record of the week from the RCA club I had joined for only seven cents. It was the Go-Go’s, “Beauty and the Beat.” The needle dropped and crackle, blam, blam, blam, blam. Can you hear them?
I turned off the overhead light and turned on the bedside table light. I had just rearranged my room the day before and was proud of the new layout. The green shag rug was freshly vacuumed, my bed was neatly made, and all surfaces were polished to perfection with lemon fresh Pledge. I sat on the floor, and using my bed as a desk, I opened my English book to the day’s missed assignment. I turned and looked back at the wallpaper. Luke Skywalker held a glowing light saber high over his head in four and a half different locations on my wall. Princess Leia stared back at me with confidence knowing the she would be awarded for her bravery by the rebel alliance. Returning to my English book, I pulled out a fresh sheet of loose-leaf paper and found a pencil in my backpack. The process of preparing to do my homework assignment was just as important to success as the actual execution of thinking out and writing answers. It was only when all the books were opened to their proper pages and paper and pencil were laid out, that I could begin to adjust myself to become comfortable for the task ahead. Many times I had set out to fulfill these Wednesday make-up assignments and many times I had accomplished just that. . . with reluctance. . . but success. However, this evening would prove to be different. Tomorrow I would go to school with no homework. Not because of the lack of intent or desire. Not because of any of the usual reasons for hating to do my homework. But because of the events that unfolded at that exact moment. Did I mention Wednesdays were bad?
It started with a voice. The voice of my brother down the hall and from his bedroom. A shrill and frantic yell, “Mike, comere quick!”
My first instinct was of the what now? variety mixed with a, hold your horses, attitude. But there was really only half a second to think these thoughts, because they were interrupted by a series of repeated explosions. Then on top of the explosions came piercing whistles followed by even louder explosions, some fast and sharp, some loud and powerful, some spinning, some flying, some crying, some screaming. My heart started pounding instantly. I can’t say there was even a second of doubt as to what was happening. I knew those sounds and I knew them well. Within the first second of pops and explosions, I had stood up and made my way for the stairs. I think I screamed like a little girl, but then again, little girls are not all that different from little boys. It’s difficult to tell what was really happening, and what was a dream, and what has become a twisted memory. A moment of déja-vu overcame me as I stood at the top of the steps looking down. Each step felt far too familiar. The turn from the bottom of the steps into the hallway downstairs felt oddly familiar, almost as if I had recently dreamed this exact sequence. And when I yanked the phone from Theresa MacGilveray’s shoulder and hung it up for her, it felt all too familiar. The explosions continued upstairs, more violent and powerful than ever. The smoke alarms both upstairs and downstairs were now screaming at the tops of their lungs. I turned to Theresa and yelled, “Call 911, call 911!” And she did.
What happened next becomes even more surreal. As I stood at the bottom of the steps and looked up, there were barrels of smoke pluming down the staircase. There was Theresa yelling for a bucket, then running from bathroom to bedroom and bedroom to bathroom. There was Ben yelling back something. There was me chewing on my thumbnail and trying to find Cookie and Bah. Then there were sounds of distant sirens. Now standing outside the house, I watched the fire trucks pull into the driveway. Six men in full fireproof garb ran in the house to assess the situation. Ben and Theresa came out. The firemen grabbed a hose and pulled it in through the front door. A minute later two fireman came out carrying a stripped mattress from my brother’s room. A large hole that went all the way through the mattress was still smoldering. Cookie and Bah were playing with a frog they had found in the garden. I looked over my shoulder to find Chris and Scott Bennett, Conrad Rhea, Mark Moser, Ms. Dobson, and several other neighborhood kids and adults standing around the fire trucks trying to see what would come out of the house next. They all wanted to know what had happened, but I didn’t feel like talking. I ignored them the best I could. Ms. Dobson asked where my mother was. I turned and looked down the driveway to see my mom’s car pulling up. My mother and uncle jumped out. With a shaking hand covering her mouth, my mom ran up to one of the fireman. Then she ran up to Theresa and Ben who now stood by the side door. A few more items came out the front door. Some blue curtains, a small wooden chair, a lamp.
Ms. Dobson asked if she could help out by taking me back to her house. My mom thought it would be a good idea, so off we went, leaving behind the fire trucks, the smoldering mattress, the baby sitter, my brother, my mother, my uncle, the neighborhood kids, and Bah. I picked up Cookie and carried her with me.
I sat on the back porch of the Dobson’s house and explained the story as best I could to Ms. Dobson and her daughter Meg. I told them about Marvin. I told them about the fireworks. I told them about my homework. I told them about grabbing the phone from Theresa and telling her to call 119, no 199, no 911. Meg nodded. She knew what I was trying to say. Cookie walked around and inspected every corner of the screened porch.
Eventually Cookie and I went home.
My mom was in the living room talking to my brother, the fire chief and Theresa MacGilveray. Theresa was crying. The house smelled like destruction. Two large fans upstairs were propped in the windows. I went upstairs and looked at my brother’s room. The shag carpet was covered in burn marks, bottle rocket sticks, and firecracker packaging. The walls and ceiling were charred by hundreds of randomly splattered explosion stains. The plastic vent on the ceiling where the forced air normally came out was covered in black soot. Smoke stains stretched out across the ceiling making their way to each wall.
I tried to sleep that night, but kept awakening to flashes and explosions. Eventually I drifted off into a light slumber only to wake up for school the next morning. I dreaded having to explain to my teacher the reasons behind my lack of homework.
When it was all said and done, fireworks were forever banned from the house and Ben spent two weeks on restriction. I don’t recall ever seeing my mom’s friend Marvin again.
I continued to go to piano lessons for the next year until my mom eventually got tired of hearing my complaints of Mrs. Laundry. Ten years later we read in the newspaper about how Mrs. Laundry had hired someone to kill her husband. . . but that’s another story all together.
I also reluctantly continued going to Old Donation for the Gifted and Talented for the next three years. I even managed to get most of my homework assignments done.