Something’s Burning

Something's Burning - GLONO FictionThat summer was my own personal season in Hell. I’d just finished my freshman year of college and found myself back in my hometown not for another summer hurrah, but working third-shift at a soap factory while my friends were playing lifeguard at the local pools or hustling ice cream to suburban moms. To top it off my girlfriend had just dumped me…again.

The first time could be forgiven since we’d never broached the subject of exclusivity. I guess that was because I assumed she was as enamored with me as I was with her and simply couldn’t contemplate another person in the mix. I was wrong.

I first found out about it at a bonfire party out by the gravel pits on the outskirts of town. Someone had a boombox that was blaring “Life is a Highway” while the Coors Light and wine coolers took hold. Some people tried to feign horror that such a song would even get air-time but the truth was that song and so many others like it were the life blood of the radio dials. It was awful, yes, but it also held a supreme position on the soundtrack of that summer despite not even being a new song. It was inescapable.


It was while that song was playing that I heard about Suzie and Jack. I was half-listening to a conversation about how our class couple had recently broken up. I guess their love couldn’t stand the strain of Freshman year apart. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anyone but it was for some reason and it remained the prime topic of conversation at most parties that summer.

“I knew they wouldn’t make it,” Roger Jenkins said. He’d been our class president and always seemed to have a line on alumni gossip. “I mean, can you imagine what a dog Jack has been at State this year?”

“Imagine? I don’t have to imagine,” Brian Dixon chimed in.

“No, I guess you don’t. You guys must have been a disaster as roommates.”

“A disaster to the ladies, ” Brian slurred. “And our GPAs.”

There was a smattering of laughter and high fives as Brian chugged the last warm bit of his Coors with a knowing, crooked smile and half-closed eyes. These were my classmates but not my peers. I floated through high school mostly invisible and I doubted most of these people knew my first name. It was only through the natural mixing of groups during college year homecomings that we were now at the same parties. We were now strange planets in each other’s orbits.

“So I guess he’s nailing Suzie Lewis now.”

Wait. What did he just say? Suzie Lewis? My stomach tightened. I could feel my blood pressure rising and my mouth dry out.

“I thought you were dating Suzie Lewis?” Roger said looking at me.

Shit, they did know me and they knew that I was dating Suzie, which meant they now knew what I knew: Suzie Lewis was dumping me again.

“Yeah…so did I,” I tried to joke. “Actually, we’re just messing around, so…” Now I was just trying to save face. It didn’t work. I could see the looks on their faces; some sympathetic and others mocking. One of theirs had stolen one of mine. I had to find Stuart.

I walked away into the darkness and toward a group of skater kids from a neighboring high school. There was a time when their appearance would have guaranteed a fight but now “Alternative” music was hitting the mainstream and suddenly everyone was sporting Doc Martens and ill-fitting jeans. The muscular stance and overwrought singing from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains had been enough to snag more than a few jocks despite the lyrical content that would have surely sent most into fits had they taken the time to listen. Of course, most of these golden children on suburbia were probably convinced that “Drawing Flies” was about them.

Stuart was nowhere.

Anne Harrison stumbled toward me through the orange and yellow flicker of the bon fire. Even though we’d graduated together and had attended the same small school together since eighth grade, we had maybe spoken to each other three times. Her lock on my eyes made it clear she was coming toward me. Talking to Jack’s jilted lover was the last thing I needed, especially now. I needed an escape route but there was nowhere to go. She was closing in.

Somebody had taken over the boombox and Mudhoney‘s “Suck You Dry” came on. The skaters, clearly, but this was too much. Despite the adoration from Kurt Cobain, who had made this all possible, this music was somehow “faggy.” I guess because it wasn’t on MTV’s heavy rotation. The slowly rising voices of an argument could be heard through the din of Mudhoney’s blare.

Come a little closer

Before I slide over

Come on, I want you burn

Come a little closer

Before I take you over

Come now, watch my burn

No time like he present

To get ripped apart

Got this burning desire

Aiming straight for your heart

Suck you dry

Suck you dry

I had nowhere to go. Anne was in front of me now, tears in her eyes.

“Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“No. I already know.”

“But can I talk to you about it?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

Can’t breath until

I suck you dry

No time like he present

To get ripped apart

Got this burning desire

Aiming straight for your heart

“But they’re together, doesn’t that bother you?”

“No, why should it?”

“I thought you were going out?”

“Yeah, well…”

The boombox went silent and the distinct sound of flesh hitting flesh rang in my ears. I got to the point of action just in time to see Matt Hendrix, one of the football players from my school and one of the most obnoxious kids I’d ever met, take a boot to the chin. I got a little sick to my stomach when I saw his tooth flying through the air, lit against the black sky by the bon fire. Those skaters were tougher than the jocks had anticipated. They always were.

I was tight with anxiety, rage, and depression as I walked toward where I’d left my car. It was a service road about a quarter of a mile through a field from where the bon fire had been. There were abandoned trucks and heavy equipment along the way that looked like dead elephants under the moonlight. They’d gone on as long as they could only to stop dead in their tracks, their hulking masses now the weight that crushed their own ability to go on.

The thought of Suzie with Jack flashed in between the vision of Matt’s tooth getting kicked out. My mind raced and I walked faster. I had to get out of there. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know where Stuart was but I had to get out of there immediately.

There were two guys I didn’t know sitting on the hood of my car as I walked up. I could see them by the light of a street lamp that was near the entrance of the Plainfield Quarry Company, where our illicit summer parties took place. They looked to be only a couple inches taller than me and slightly bigger as well. They were both wearing t-shirts and jeans, but I couldn’t tell what faction they represented. They weren’t skinheads, so that was one plus.

The one on the right looked up as I approached but didn’t say a word. I stood in front of them waiting to see if they’d move but also because my mind was too busy playing loops of Suzie, Jeff and Brian all in a tangle of arms, legs, blood and teeth. I was shaking.

“This is my car,” I finally said.

“What?” the one who’d looked up said.

“This is my car.”

“So?”

“So get off of it.”

“What did you say?”

“I said get off it. Get off my fucking car.”

He stood up as the other one stayed seated. He had something in his hands I couldn’t see, something that was requiring his undivided attention even as a fight was about to go down three feet in front of him. The other guy walked up to me. He was taller than I’d thought. Thicker too.

“Do you think that’s a good…” I stopped him mid-sentence. It was the best punch I’ve ever thrown in my life. Like in a movie. I hit him solidly on the chin but then the force of my fist and the sweat of his face let my hand slide a bit into his mouth where I cut two knuckles on his front teeth. The blood was mine but he was out cold in the dirt under the orange light.

His friend finally looked up.

“Holy shit, dude. What did you do that for?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Did he not hear the conversation we’d been having? He was right there the entire time. Some tiny beads dropped from his hand. He’d been repairing a necklace of Indian beads. Everyone was wearing them that summer. I had three strands on.

“Seriously, that is insane, man!” He started to giggle and then his eyes widened and I could see his pupils. He was tripping. Hard.

“Get off my car.”

“Dude, you need to talk to your friend. He just knocked Deano out.”

Stuart was standing next to me. I hadn’t heard him come up but seeing him didn’t startle me. I was perfectly calm, perfectly still.

“What happened?” Stuart asked. He didn’t seem alarmed either. It was as if finding me with blood all over my hand and a seemingly dead kid on the ground was commonplace. It wasn’t, not by a stretch, but that’s how it seemed.

“He was sitting on my car and stepped to me.”

“You punched him?”

“I did. I knocked him out, I guess.”

“Wow.”

“Where have you been? I want to get out of here.”

“Oh yeah, I ran into Alan. He and Hal want to go see Ben in California. You want to go?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t you want to know when? Don’t you have to get time off of work?”

“Nope. I don’t care. I’m going.”

“Nice,” Stuart looked at Tripping Daisy and shrugged. “Sorry about your pal.”

We got into my car and “Something’s Burning” by the Stone Roses was playing in my tape deck. It was often playing in my car that summer but it was particularly appropriate then. We rolled down the windows, turned up the radio and raced down the service road. We had a different soundtrack for that summer.

I can see the love and the hate in your eyes

Penny for the thoughts behind your disguise

What you gonna do and what you gonna say?

I’m not the only one believing there’s an easier way

Previously: Topanga Canyon

Mudhoney: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

The Stone Roses: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

Soundgarden: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

Pearl Jam: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

Alice in Chains: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

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