Bruce A. Martin
Middle Island NY 11953
About 1250 words
I've been wondering about it for weeks. Ever since I saw that man with the cigar take a new match from a matchbook and hold it net to an old match that had just gone out. Even though there was no more flame, the old match must have been hot enough to set off that red stuff on the tip of the new one. They call it "Phosphor". Somebody else called it "phosphorous".
The new match flared up very brightly. Brighter and faster than when a match is only dragged across the brown strip. Much brighter and faster. And with a little whooshing sound. There was a funny smell, too. Sorta like old eggs that Mommy throws out.
He did it again. This time, with a match that was still burning, but the new match flared up just as fast and bright, anyhow. This time, there was a little "pop", instead of a whoosh.
What if a third match was next to it? Then a fourth one next to that. Maybe all of the matches in the book, but one at a time, in a straight row. You could light the end of the row, then whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, pop-pop-pop, the chain reaction would travel right down the line. Maybe you could put a piece of paper at the end, as a signal flag, to show that the chain was unbroken.
I don't get left home alone very often. Mommy went next door, to visit the neighbors. I'm very careful. My parents know that I wouldn't ever go outside, or use the stove, or run the bathtub, or throw something that could break a lamp. They know that I'd never play with matches.
Daddy lets me light the campfire with matches. He lets me hold sticks right over it, with marshmallows and hot dogs. But not at the same time.
He taught me all about how to put rocks around it and clear away the grass and twigs. Then we carefully build a little teepee, or sometimes a log cabin, with dry little "tinder" twigs inside it. Once in a while we use paper inside. But that's not the way the Indians did it. (He knows. He once went to Nebraska just to study the Indians. Then he became one. They named him "Turtle Foot". He named me "Temendequa".)
It says "close cover before striking". After you take out one match, you close it and then drag the red, or sometimes blue, end across the rough, brown strip and it usually lights up. If it doesn't work after a few times, or if it looks kinda worn out, you can open up the book and squeeze the bad match between the cover and the strip. That usually works, instead of wasting a match. Especially if it's the last one.
Two matches. That's all that a Boy Scout is allowed to use to make a campfire. Daddy was a Boy Scout. He was a "Silver Palm Eagle". He laughed when I asked him whether real eagle birds have palms on their claws.
What if the fire was far away? Or you didn't want to get too close to it? Or the tinder was way too far inside the log cabin? A chain of matches would get it from here to there! Only the last match should count for a Boy Scout, since it's the only one that actually touches the wood.
I can just picture it. I can almost hear it go "pop-pop-pop", "whoosh-whoosh-whoosh", like a little machine gun or a row of dominos falling down. Fire from one end would travel all the way to the other end. Maybe this could be an "invention".
It might not work. I don't want to ask Mommy or Daddy about it. They might think I'm a "pyromaniac" or an "Arson" starter.
I need a safe way to test it out. With nothing burnable around. The kitchen counter is no good: the flareups will leave a mark. Just like the cigarette Daddy once left on the edge. Mommy still gets all mad about that, every time she see the brown mark in the "Formica".
The sink is good. So is the tub. If it flares up too much, I can turn on the faucet. But what if it's too hot to reach over and I can't get the knob? What if the chain reaction is too fast and gets out of control, like a bomb? The knob may be too slow.
Also, the stuff might clog in the strainer. You see, underneath the sink there is a "trap". I helped Daddy take it apart once, and we took out all kinds of stuff. marbles, a toy soldier, even a dime! If I wash down the matches there, then they will get stuck in the "trap" and somebody could find them.
Maybe a frying pan. Would that work? I could have another pot next to it, with water, just like at a campfire. But I'd need two hands to hold the handles, and stuff might spill out if the chain reaction went too fast. Or the handle might get too hot.
I know!!! The perfect place. It's made of stuff that won't burn and doesn't leave marks. There's plenty of light, there. I could get rid of the evidence, just by pushing the handle. Nobody will ever know.
OK. Everything is planned perfectly. It was very tricky lining up the matches, and keeping them from sliding. I had to use a bunch of paper under the ends (but away from the red stuff) to prop them up on the dry part. For tinder, I just used more paper -- but it's not a real Indian fire. This is just an experiment. If anything goes wrong, I'll just push the handle and everything will be alright. Nobody will ever know.
I'm ready, now. One match to light the first one in the row. Close the cover. Strike it. Hold it steady until it settles down. Put the matchbook safely away. Now, light the first one.
Good. It's whooshing up. It's popping, too. uh oh! It popped and moved and jumped away. Now the chain is broken.
OK. Another try. I can still do it like a Boy Scout, with only two matches. (Not counting the ones in the row.) Start all over. And remember to push the handle if anything goes wrong.
The second match. The Boy Scout's last chance. Close the cover. Strike it. Hold it next to the beginning of the row. There it goes! Pop. Whoosh. oh, no!.
They are catching too fast. And bouncing around. And hitting the paper that holds up the ends. The chain reaction is getting out of control. And popping. And jumping. I'd better do something fast. Slam the lid down. Snuff it out.
Whew, the lid is closed. I can't see it, but that should smother it. I forgot all about the handle.
Why is there smoke? Yikes! What's happening. I pushed the handle, but there's still smoke. Quick, throw some water on it. Maybe a towel.
Several decades have passed since that incident, but I still get teased about it now and then by family members. To this day, my parents still cannot understand how I managed to set fire to the brand new, plastic toilet seat!