“No, because why would someone who isn’t tall enough to reach the 30th button even live on the 30th floor? Why not just live on the 10th floor or whatever?” Raymond asked
“I think you’re missing the point dude, you got the answer right, why are you still heated?” responded Ian.
“Because it doesn’t make any sense, why woul-”
“I’m not going through this with you again, are we going to build this fire or what?”
The conversation between the two young men echoed throughout the suburb around them as they stood around an empty fire pit on a particularly cold May night. Raymond was wearing khaki pants, white tennis shoes and a hoodie which bore his university’s logo, contrasting Ian’s outfit of basketball shorts, open-toed sandals and a t-shirt, all well worn. Directly next to the firepit was a wood pile, which consisted of logs, sticks and twigs, all of which came from the forest a few yards away from the fire pit.
“It’s already pretty late, and it rained today, going to be pretty damn hard to get shit to light,” Raymond said.
“It stopped raining at like, noon and we’re the only ones here, plenty of time to get it going before everyone else comes over.” Ian replied.
Raymond consented, and the boys/men gathered sticks and leaves from the nearby wood pile. After a while, they had gathered a good amount, and placed them in the way they were taught in the middle of the fire pit, pushing in partially burnt pieces of wood from fires past to supplement their sticks, twigs and leaves.
“Grab the cardboard,” Raymond said.
Ian looked up from the pile, “Let’s try to get it going without it, like our ancestors of old.”
“Fuck our ancestors, I’m cold,” his angered friend replied.
Ian sighed, “Let’s just try it without the cardboard, and if we need it, we’ll use it, ok?”
Raymond scoffed “Fine. I don’t know why I let you make all the decisions, it’s my house.”
“But my cardboard,” replied Ian, grinning mockingly. Raymond promptly flipped him off, and they finished the preparations for the fire.
Raymond moved towards the center of the teepee of sticks, lighter in hand. He angled the lighter so that it would light the tight bundle of flammable leaves in the center without knocking the makeshift creation over.
“You got it?” asked Ian.
“I got it. Wait one fucking second, will you?” responded the flame bearer.
“Sorrrry” Ian said sarcastically, “Somebody’s in a mood tonight.”
“It’s goddamn freezing out here, aren’t you cold?” Raymond asked as he attempted to cup the lighter’s flame from the wind.
“Not particularly, no,” Ian replied.
Raymond turned and looked at his friend, his eyes lingering on his feet, particularly on Ian’s toes, which glowed beet red in the lighter’s flame.
“Why do you even want a fire, if you’re so warm?” inquired Raymond sarcastically.
Ian smiled, “Why, all of mankind’s developments were spurred on by fire, my unlearned friend, without fire, no meat, without meat, no brain, no brain, no…..everything.” He gestured to the world around him.
“Still not sure what that has to do with me freezing my ass off trying to set some leaves on fire,” said Raymond.
“Because man commanded fire, man commands the world, don’t you want to command the world, Ray?”
Raymond rolled his eyes at his friend’s grandiosity, “You know, sometimes I feel like you just say stuff to sound smart.”
“Not all that hard to do when compared to the company I keep”
“Fuck off,” Raymond said, throwing the lighter at Ian, “and get the cardboard, this shit won’t light.”
Ian furrowed his brow “Let me try, did you aim it at the pine needles?”
Raymond ignored him, and began ripping up the empty box of a cake Ian’s family bought for his graduation days before. Simultaneously, Ian made his own attempt at getting the fire going, being able to successfully light some leaves on fire, but failed to spread the flame whatsoever. After several failed attempts, he stood back up, turned around, and was met with the sight of Raymond, who was looking at the cake box with a frown on his face.
Ian sighed, “you’re right, we definitely need cardboard to get this lit.”
Raymond, in a noticeably frustrated voice, said, “yeah, I’m not so sure we are going to be able to get this lit at all dude, let’s just use the fireplace on the deck, it will light in five seconds and there’s more room up there anyways.”
“That thing can’t warm one person up, let alone all five of us. Just be patient, I’m sure I-, we can get it lit with the cardboard, that should burn up real nice,” said Ian.
Raymond sighed, “Knock yourself out, I’m going to get some snacks ready for the rest of the guys”
Raymond handed the cake box, now torn into several smaller pieces, to Ian, and retreated back into his house, briefly flooding the outside with artificial light, before plunging it back into darkness as he shut the door. Now alone in the night, Ian gazed around at his surroundings, his eyes drifting from the woods to Raymond’s father’s workbench, and finally to the empty firepit before him. He imagined what the fire would look like fully lit, with the ambers dancing in the air like fireflies, each log added to the flame jostling hundreds into the air, becoming indiscernible with the stars above, hanging suspended for a few moments before burning out, and falling back to earth. He imagined his friends sitting around the fire, their bodies warmed by it’s soft glow, its light illuminating their laughing faces as they drank whatever light beer or mixed drink they brought with them. He saw the fire blazing bright for hours on end until it finally burned out, having served its purpose. At this, Ian was thrust from his daydream, the unlit fire once again lying before him, so he got to work.
Before lighting the cardboard, Ian rebuilt the kindling, being careful to throw all sticks that were too wet back into the yard. After he constructed a mostly dry pyre of sticks, twigs and leaves, he held the lighter’s flame to the largest piece of torn box, and waited for the cardboard to burn bright. When it finally caught, he set the flaming refuse below his kindling, careful not to knock anything over. Finally, the flame began to spread, as the large piece of cardboard burnt bright, and Ian began to feel the familiar heat warming his face.
“How’s it going?” asked Raymond as he approached the firepit carrying two cans of beer.
“Pretty good, I think. The cardboard is burning nice, I just can’t get these sticks to light,” Ian replied, while feeding the last of his cardboard to the fire.
Raymond tossed Ian one of the cans and opened his own. After taking a long sip, he smiled and said, “you know, if you can’t get it started with cardboard, I could try dumping some gas on it.”
Ian grimaced, “dude, that would smell like shit and you’ll probably blow us both up, hell no.”
Raymond chuckled, “it won’t smell that bad dude, plus, if it won’t get this fire started, literally nothing will.”
Ian glanced at his creation, already diminishing in size, no more than a flicker of light hidden beneath a pile of sticks. He thought back to when his uncle taught him how to build a fire when he was a boy, and silently wished he paid more attention.
“Alright man, whatever, just hurry up and grab it, I’ll try to keep this burning,” said Ian.
Delighted, Raymond quickly walked around his house to enter his garage where, sitting beside his father’s Corvette, resided his item of interest. After picking up the gas canister, he poured the gas into a thick plastic cup he found nearby, remembering the time he once saw his cousin attempt a similar venture with a solo cup, only for the gasoline to eat clean through the cup in a matter of minutes. His cup filled, Raymond set the canister down, and walked back to the fire pit, careful not to spill any of his precious accelerant.
Raymond walked up to the fire pit, watching as Ian steadily fed his small flame with leaves and dead pine needles, managing to just barely keep the small flame alight.
“Move out of the way dude, I’m gonna toss it on,” said Raymond.
Ian stood up and backed away from the fire, allowing his friend to quickly dump the gasoline on his meager flame. In an instant, the world turned orange, as the flame exploded in height and size, engulfing the entire fire pit for a moment, appearing as if the very ground was a lighter, and the fire was it’s flame. In the aftermath of the ignition, the air smelled of rotten eggs and the fire burned somewhat stronger than it had before. Ian quickly scrambled to provide the fire with more fuel, but was unable to get any of the pieces of bark, or larger sticks to catch, and the fire began to slowly fade.
“Damn, I was sure that would do the trick. I guess it’s just too wet, sorry Ian. Help me out with the deck fireplace, will ya?” said Raymond
Ian barely heard him, as he stared at his flame burn dimmer and dimmer, consuming what little flammable material remained, until it burnt out completely, and was reduced to nothing but a smoldering ember in the middle of a pit of ash. His mind empty, he turned his back on the fire pit and made his way up onto the deck.
“If you could just light it for me when I turn the propane on, that would help a ton,” Raymond said, fiddling with a propane tank connected to the artificial fire pit centered in the middle of his deck.
The fireplace was small, and consisted of a bowl of blue crystals, all fake, and a tube through which propane flows, allowing flames to spread along the surface of the crystals. It required no maintenance after lighting, able to burn for hours until the propane ran out, or it was manually switched off. The crystals were made out of burn resistant glass, which means they never needed to be replaced, as they would never burn or melt away.
Ian robotically grabbed the lighter from the fireplace drawer and, when he heard the telltale hissing of the propane, moved the sparkwheel forward, and pulled the lighting trigger. There was an audible snap and the fire was lit, burning softly in the middle of the ocean of blue crystals.
“There we go! Now that’s a fire,” said Raymond.
The boys heard the sound of a car pulling into Raymond’s driveway, rumbling over the gravel and coming to rest in the grass front lawn.
“Rick and the rest of them must be here, I’ll go say hi, put out some pillows for them,” said Raymond.
Ian complied, grabbing four throw pillows from the nearby linen closet, arranging them on the couch surrounding the fireplace. After completing his task, he sat down on the couch, and gazed into the fireplace, the small, persistent flame dancing from crystal to crystal, basking his face in its glow. As he shifted his gaze from the fire down to his legs, which were completely unaffected by the fire’s meager heat, he realized for the first time that night that his feet were cold.