People are taking videos of the sunset like it’s the last one they’ll ever see. They post clips of fractals, the sky bending day into night. They appear fascinated with the passage of time, the forward movement of all moments. They lean like lovers into something spiritual, hoping for an answer to a prayer, wishing for a miracle.
I imagine the man on Hollywood Boulevard carrying a box of fire to be investigating the same virtue. His box is wrapped in tin foil, and as he ignites the flame inside I wonder if he was afraid of fireworks as a child, if the large boom bothered him. I was afraid of the big roar too, the dancing in my ears that made my heart hurt with a thump, thump, crash, crash.
Maybe he believes in something. It is possible he is following his own truth.
My manager calls the police on him. He brings his fire box so close to the restaurant that she is worried, afraid of what might happen. “He could throw that box right into our window,” she explains. She tells Clarissa to grab his lighter fluid and put it behind the bar. She walks over to the window, snatches the bottle, her blonde head bobs as she rushes back. He yells for it, obscenities, mostly, but also genuine pleas for what belongs to him. Clarissa pretends not to hear, her back turned and her hand on her slim waist.
A few weeks ago, the effects of the brush fires in Santa Clarita came down pretty hard on Los Angeles, especially the valley. We walked outside into clouded streets like bowls of milk. We brushed ash off our clothes. Our foreheads dripped with sweat all day.
I remember kids from elementary school, obsessed with fire. Boys who fantasized about explosions, what will happen when the world ends, when everybody stops going to sleep. They got in trouble for these episodes, toilet paper ablaze in a bathroom stall, the aggressive rubbing together of sticks at recess. A teacher put an end to the exploration. “It’s dangerous,” they’d explain. The kids were never able to create the thing that they wished for the most.
“He starts fires,” the cops says, laughing. They’d seen him before. Fire was his medium.
I stole a Barbie doll dress from a KB Toys when I was six. I wanted it very badly and didn’t understand why I couldn’t have it. I’d made it out the door and into the mall with the little blue dress in my jacket pocket. My mom caught a glimpse and made me carry it back, apologize, and promise not to do it again. But I did steal again, and again. I stole mostly when I didn’t have to. I stole when I wanted something and thought I deserved it.
People take so many pictures of the city. They say they want to stay forever and then they leave. We get tourists all the time at the restaurant. They ask us what to do, what to see, where to go. We smile and tell them it’s a great place to be, we love it here, just walk that way and you’ll see such great things.
I tried to take a picture of the fire on the mountain. It was blurry and looked like orange streaks more than fire. Taking a picture is like stealing. I guess stealing is my thing.
About the Author: Brittany Ackerman is a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University's MFA program in Creative Writing. She recently completed a residency at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, as well as the Mont Blanc Workshop in Chamonix, France, in the summer. She is currently living in Los Angeles and working on a novel of fiction.