Over the phone a monotone rasp crawled from her tar-coated vocal chords and was delivered like a swarm of chiggers against my eardrum. She told me that all the jewelry she had talked about the previous day was locked in the trunk of the Pontiac. Real stuff, worth thousands and thousands of dollars. Her legacy. It was the only place none of the three boyfriends, or the ex-husband, would think to snoop. I told her it was a great place for a stash, of anything. She broke out into heaving sobs. The car had been stolen the previous night when Ray and Jay, her idiot, doped-up sons, had gone into the Imperial gas station to get corn dogs and left the car running. The news got worse. Buddy still needed to be buried, but she couldn’t find anyone to help her pull him from the dumpster and could she borrow just a few minutes of my time.
They swooped up from Mississippi, gypsies—rumor had it—with hair as black as swamp mud, curly as Spanish moss and a tongue for Louisiana hot sauce. Inez sold jewelry at Bargain City. The smiling scoop of her cotton tops providing easy access to the perfect valley for rings with imperfect gemstones, hockable gold and silver charms.
She lived, with her daughter, in our trailer court. Brenda was my first kiss. Lips that hit mine like a taser. That happens at twelve years. She said she could not believe I had never kissed anyone before, that I was good at it. She tasered me again and we sat on her bed and listened to the radio as Johnny Rivers sang The Poor Side of Town. We made out for a few more songs and talked about the poor side of town. Within a week Inez was fired for stealing and they moved, maybe back to Mississippi, maybe to Michigan, I never found out. I thought more about the song. It was not only hard to find nice things on the poor side of town, it was also hard to keep them from leaving in the middle of the night.
Patrick and Henry were always burning something inside the hole lined with stones in their back yard. The season did not matter. I first noticed them from my second story bedroom window, shortly after we moved into the Cape Cod style house. It was raining and Patrick held a large umbrella over the two of them as Henry squirted drops of lighter fluid onto crumpled paper, lit each piece and dropped it into the pit. When the paper was gone they sprayed fluid on the umbrella and threw it in.
I was a firebug convert. It was 4 miles to Glendale Mall, but we found ways to get there a dozen times over a couple months, once riding in the back of a pickup with several crates of gawking hens. The visits were the same, one of us entered the toy store and smiled at the woman at the register. She glanced back with the eye that was not receiving smoke signals from the bobbing Winston. Patrick was in love, with the glowing red ball at the cigarette’s end. As she loaded her lungs with tar, we stole a whole chemistry set one piece at a time, beakers, flasks, test tubes, pipettes, a set of scales, a Bunsen burner, small bottles of chemicals and a chemistry book. Nothing significant was ever mixed that helped our scorch-the-world rebellion. The gunpowder concoction failed, until we added the contents of a strontium flare we found in the ticket booth of the football stadium. It fizzled, glowed a super nova red and burned a divot into the basement workbench. But the lack of explosion drove us to the Molotov cocktail. The aspirin bottle provided a nice whoosh and flame but we wanted more and called on Dr. Pepper. Filled with gas, the bottle blew the back brick wall of our barbecue pit over. We moved shortly after that. I noticed recently on Google Earth that the houses are still there, fifty years later.