See a Match Burn Twice

by Benjamin Reed

My big brother Michael wasn't the only white guy I knew who listened to rap music, but he was the only one I knew who actually seemed to hear it. The two of us were driving in his pea-green Volkswagen Rabbit, heading west on the upper deck of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The sun was setting behind the Transamerica tower, and bass blasted out of the beleaguered flea market speakers so loud it hurt my ears. I didn't complain. As usual, I simply followed my brother's lead, laying back into the torn upholstery, bobbing my head to the music.

Michael said something, but I couldn't hear it.

"What?" I yelled.

He turned the volume down a touch. "I asked how school was going."

"Oh. Fine, I guess."

"And the honors classes?"

"Easy. I think they're probably easier than the regular classes. Once there's this pretense that everybody in the room is some kinda genius, the challenge is pretty much gone."

He laughed. "And grades?"

"Great," I lied in a yell over the music.

"Good. Look, tonight--" the car in front of us slowed unexpectedly and my brother hit the brakes, swinging his arm against my chest and pinning me down into my seat, even though I was buckled up. "Sorry. Anyway, tonight I want you to work on your post. Use your butt to get your man out of the way and put up that little backboard shot. 1-2-3. Got it?"

"Yeah, okay."

"Your hook shot's perfect, by the way. You look like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out there. I don't know how you do it."


"You like Kevin?"

"Yeah, he's a good coach."

"What about Steve?"

"I don't know, really. He usually just works with the point guards."

It was my brother's idea that I try out for a Junior Olympic team that his friends were coaching over in Daly City. I had to admit, I hadn't the slightest objection to getting away from the high school team I was on. We were ranked twenty-something in the league, and our games didn't even make the school paper. That, and I was getting pretty sick of being told by my teammates, "You're only here because you're tall," right after I just took them down the lane for two easy points.

Getting picked for the team meant taking a bus from my hometown in the East Bay, getting off in Oakland, and then taking the BART train across the San Francisco Bay and halfway down the peninsula, through the six San Francisco stops, from Embarcadero to 24th and Mission, stopping at the stations with strange, urban names like Glen Park and Balboa Park, to Daly City, the end of the line. Which wasn't so bad, really. The train ride was so long, my homework was done before I got to practice, and I could sleep on the way home. But, on some rare occasions, Michael would pick me up and we'd drive to practice together and, after, he'd pick me up and take me home. This didn't actually cut down on my commute time, but it allowed a couple of hours to talk to my big brother, which I secretly loved. Michael was a hero to me in many ways, but between his job, college, Army ROTC, volunteer work, community service fraternity, and girlfriend, he had been all but invisible lately. But, every once in a while, he'd show up and I'd get to play Robin to his Batman.

The green Rabbit rattled off the Bay Bridge and headed south down the peninsula, the late afternoon sun already sliding down into the Pacific. We took Highway 280 to the south and to the west, as we always did, leaving San Francisco behind before we got off the freeway and onto John Daly Boulevard, Daly City. We climbed the hill that stood in the middle of town, always looking less like a hill and more like a mound of something huge and lurking, swept under the carpet of homes and oil-spotted asphalt. My brother dropped me off in front of Memorial Gym, one enormous concrete outcropping among liquor stores and yellowed, rundown pre-war apartment buildings. I grabbed my bag out of the back seat and said goodbye.

"Sorry I can't watch you practice tonight."

"It's no big deal, really. Tonight's the talent show?"

"Yeah, the kids are stoked. I'll be at the community center until ten or ten-thirty, then I'll come pick you up, okay?"

"Sure thing, Boss."

The sun had now set, and the enormous American flag flickered and snapped in the wind high above the vast browning lawn I crossed on my way to the elliptical concrete concourse that led both wheel and foot to the glass front doors. This was only my second week on the team.

I opened the doors and the sweaty sweet warm air and the musical squeaking of rubber on wood hit me before I was even inside. Shouts and calls echoed through the entryway as I passed the caged-up coke machine and tired old man who lent balls and sold athletic tape from behind the sagging front counter, also enclosed in a cage, but looking less secure than the coke machine.

It was early, but some of guys on the team were already playing two-on-two on the far court reserved for us, visible through the sprinting and blurring and cursing of the bodies on the other courts. A fifth sat out waiting for me, or another sixth. He saw me and waved me over. I smiled and waved back. What was his name? Jamal? Jamar? Hurry, hurry, his eyes said as I walked closer, though I held his gaze, trying to make sure his eyes weren't really saying, Ah, Christ. Here comes the white kid.

I walked over and sat down heavily on the partially folded-up bleachers. I took off my old sneakers and pulled my new Nikes from my bag. Someone said something about my shoes, but I only nodded. What was I going to say? That my mom bought them for me at Macy's? Besides, I was thinking about my old basketball team, the high school j.v. squad. We were all white, except for Mike Cendaro, a yellow-skinned Cuban, and a couple of Asian kids. Every time we played black schools, we lost. Every single time. We'd walk into some poorly lit gym where the floorboards creaked and moaned, sometimes patched with unfinished pieces of plywood. The walls were always a nauseating shade of gray, or green, or some other standard government color. If they had cheerleaders, their uniforms would be mismatched, with two or three spending most of the game in the stands with their friends. And their team would come out, usually with some rap song blaring from blown-out p.a. speakers. Looking at the way my team watched them warm-up, you could see in their wide eyes that the rap beat was already beginning to hinder their own heartbeats. And then they'd trounce us. It never failed.

When we played white schools from wealthy neighborhoods, schools with names like St. Stephen's or West Hills, we could roll 'em 'till they puked and still run the score up. They'd jog out onto the court in brand new break-away warm-ups, and underneath they were pink and soft. They would be our bosses tomorrow, and we were content to be their masters today. The way their parents clapped for everything and videotaped from the stands only helped to focus our rage. But the black kids would fly over us like gods, while our shots were brick after brick, as if the ball was afraid of the rim. It was humiliating. We were afraid of them, and everybody knew it. They knew it, we knew it, the janitor who sat in back of the bleachers knew it. But after, on the ride home, my teammates would make fun of them. "Didja see that one skinny guy with the afro? He looked like a struck match!" "Yeah, and their center? He was so dark, I only saw him when he smiled!" Har-har. I wondered what they'd think if they saw me now, the only white guy on the team. But then I realized what they'd think and suddenly I didn't care anymore.

Practice started late. One of the coaches and three players didn't show up, so we ran a four-on-four scrimmage. Everyone was tired. Tired from school, work, drained from hustling commutes by BART, bus, or long walk. We ran shirts and skins and I took my jersey off, as if I needed that extra boost of surface-area differentiation, my bare white skin pink and blood-flushed and wet as I sprinted up and down the court, passing, posting, shooting. Then Aljan, our point guard as well as magnanimous team captain, twisted his ankle and fell to the floor, sliding on his beaded and dripping skin and squealing to a stop and a cry. We gathered in a panting, alarmed roof of faces above him, trapping him under a respiring dome leaking of warm sweat, asking "Hey man, are you okay?" Coach crouched down by him, telling him not to move but asking him, could he wiggle his toes? He cried out again, his eyes wincing so tight, I thought the bulging veins on his coffee-colored neck might boil over and burst. The rest of us stood there, stony and dumb. After awhile, Aljan said he could stand, so we broke our ring and helped him limp to the bleachers for elevation and ice.

After that the groove was gone and no one wanted to play anymore. Not knowing if our star point guard was injured or just hurt killed parts of us we needed to run and shove and talk trash. Even Kevin, who always tried to make so much of our little time, told us to practice free throws and take off. I searched the other courts, thinking about getting into a pickup game, but none of the games run by the giant, lumbering old men seemed to have a beginning or an end, the bleachers peopled with plenty more anxious than I. I looked at the clock high on the wall, protected by a cage of radiating wires, and realized I was going to have to wait for my brother for two hours, and that was if he was on time. I dug through my bag and found the address to the community center. I asked the old man behind the counter if he knew where it was and he said it wasn't far and he'd tell me how to get there. I listened to his directions, changed back into my old shoes, put on my pullover and walked out into the cold night air.

Growing up in the East Bay, you don't hear much about Daly City, yet you know instinctively that it's not exactly high on the list of places you want to walk through at night. It didn't have the violent reputation of an Oakland, Richmond, or an East Palo Alto, but looking at it from the zenith of the concrete ramp of the rec center, it wouldn't seem so far fetched to believe that Daly City's reputation, along with everything alive within the city limits, had been sucked deep into its own dark, unseen center. I reminded myself, needlessly, to be cautious as I began to follow the old man's directions. I kept my eyes on the ground, away from the shadows, silently scolding myself for too obviously touching my wallet in my pocket.

I took the streets he named. They all seemed smaller than what I expected. I turned left onto a narrow avenue with hardly any light at all. Several times I thought I was lost, though each time a faded street sign gave me dubious assurance.

I kept walking, faces watching me from the shadows of porches and precarious overhangs, faces only visible in the orange glow from a cigarette or the flicker of sweeping headlights. The street grew darker under defunct street lamps and the encroaching tunnels of unchecked shrubs and trees. I quickened my pace, keeping my eyes on my old shoes. I heard the community center before I saw it. Bass thumped out of a white-planked building hung next to a church. I started to check the address, but then I saw my brother's green Rabbit parked in front. This was the place.

I had to pull hard to open the heavy wooden doors, passing into a warm and well-lit entryway. Another door opened into a large room and the backs of two hundred clapping people, facing the stage where three kids in jeans and red high tops were break-dancing, their limbs and faces hidden and shown in pulses from a staggered strobe light. There were ten tables in two rows, and the only empty seat I saw was at the back table, right in front of me. So I sat down.

The break-dancers stopped suddenly, to uproarious applause. I clapped too. They were really good, I thought. The next act was a single girl who sang in a deep and mournful voice. It was a gospel, or a spiritual. I didn't know what they called it. I hadn't heard it before. She sang with her eyes closed, her voice so deep you could fall in, only able to pick up bits and pieces of the words. Red dirt. Georgia. Hot sun and cold river. I think. The guys on the team said I had no soul.

The audience exploded for her, too, and kept clapping as my brother took the stage. He emerged from behind a red curtain, towering over the six or seven little kids that trailed behind him. To say my brother is barrel-chested would be cliché and unjust. My brother, God bless him, was shaped like Donkey Kong, all neck and biceps, and the normal black tie he wore over his white dress shirt looked slim against his broad chest. It had an anachronistic effect on him, transporting him back thirty years, making him look like a certain reporter from the Daily Planet. I missed what my brother said, and he disappeared behind the curtain. The kids, none of them over the age of eight, began to act out a scene from Oz.

Suddenly, loose pieces of my attention began to cement together. I guess I had noticed that all the kids on stage had been black, but suddenly, I realized, as I scanned the audience before me, that for the first time in my life, I was the only white person in the room. I looked around, slyly, to double check, surprised I hadn't noticed it earlier. Amazing. Every parent and brother and sister and grand-parent in the place was black. Every single one.

I was jerked to the memories of countless occasions on which I was white in a room full of whites, except for one black kid or an Hispanic or an Asian. How weird they must have felt. But it must be different, right? I looked at all the dark, smiling faces around me and tried to make them all white and myself black, but it didn't work. They were still black, and I was still white, and they kept asking me if I was enjoying myself. They smiled and looked slightly incredulous and a little patronizing each time I said I was having a good time, which was true.

When the show was over, it took my brother forever to get out. Everybody wanted to shake hands or compliment him. He stood by the door, shaking hand after hand, hugging and swinging kids in the air as the exodus slowly trickled out. The kids kept calling him "Sarge" and I couldn't fathom why until I remembered the ROTC and realized he must have been down here in his fatigues more often than his civilian clothes. Finally, when the last elderly couple fell out onto the street, he looked at me and said, "Ready to go home?"

"Yeah," I yawned, "I'm tired."

"Finish your homework?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, lying to him for the second time that night.

He took my bag and we walked outside. "I didn't think those speakers were going to hold out, but--" Michael stopped short, and I saw why. Where the Rabbit was parked, there was no Rabbit. I bent over and picked up a twisted length of coat hanger.

I waited for my brother to swear, to kick or hit something. But he didn't. He just looked at the empty space of asphalt and sighed, long and hollow, "C'mon, let's get out of here."

"Aren't you going to call the cops?"

"No," he said quietly. "I don't like cops."

And just like that, he started walking. And like a good sidekick, I jogged to keep up.

It was a long time before he spoke. I wondered if he was too angry to talk. Angry at having his car stolen by the same people he was trying to help. But then I remembered the smiling, laughing faces and the clapping hands and felt ashamed for thinking they were the same people at all.

Finally, he broke the silence. "When you're walking through streets like these, you never want to be empty-handed," my brother said as we walked briskly down the middle of the street. "You want to have something, like a big stick, or a -- perfect." He bent over and picked up an empty brown bottle and slid it into his pocket.

We walked on, through the dark neighborhood, our shadows stretching into long, bouncing silhouettes under the streetlamps that still worked, vanishing into the asphalt under the ones that didn't. We passed small, tired houses behind unkempt yards surrounded by sagging fences and gates that hung limply from one rusty hinge. Yellow insect lights were pinpoints on shrouded porches. The neighborhood was ghostly quiet except for a barking dog, a flickering and shrieking television tuned into a crime show, and a husband and wife screaming match in a front room picture window that didn't die down as we approached, just kept boiling on.

"You don't want to get into a fight here. If someone confronts you, and you can't talk yourself out of it, it's always best to hit and run. And run fast. That's when cops become your friends. But don't expect to find one in this neighborhood." I listened to my brother, watching and waiting for the shadows to leap out of the corners of my eyes. I veered to the curb where I picked up a clear Fanta bottle, examining it for a moment before I slid it into the pocket of my pullover. They didn't sell Fanta in my neighborhood. I jogged to catch up with my brother.

The neighborhood became broken by a large street. We turned right and walked under the neon lights of liquor stores, which, combined with the burning high and clean white streetlamps, gave the wide sidewalk a greenish bath. Cars whizzed by, not stopping for the blinking red traffic lights. People were everywhere. Black faces. Brown faces. White faces dirtied and aged to a light brown. They were waiting for buses, standing in front of all-night convenience stores, smoking, scratching lottery tickets with stained thumbnails, carrying enormous bags of crushed aluminum cans, clear but stained with cola and smelling of beer. Some were just huddling in doorways.

"I'm going to tell you something and I want you to listen to me. Always look people in the eyes. I can't tell you how important this is. Not looking someone in the eyes can be the worst thing you can do. If someone looks you in the eyes, and you look away, you're practically telling them you're afraid. You're giving it away. It's a dominance thing, okay?"


"Try it. Start right now. Look these people in the eyes. Do it first and hold it. Just wait. They'll always look away first."

I tried it as we walked. I entered the eyes of everyone we passed. Bums, store clerks on smoke breaks, even the tired men walking home from work. It was amazing. They all looked back, met my eyes, and looked away first. It was a good game. Every encounter was a grappling challenge, and every pair of eyelids that cast the pupils down to the ground before mine was a secret, thrilling triumph. Michael was right. I started walking faster, looking for the next pair of eyes to lock with, already tasting his loss before I even saw what he looked like.

"It works," I said with a smile.

"See? You'll find it's an easy way to avoid problems."

"Yeah, it's like how you told me not to bend over and lean on my knees during time outs, so the other team doesn't see I'm tired."

"Exactly." I could tell he smiled as he spoke, though his face was hidden in darkness.

Then we passed a dirty-faced man with a half grown beard of grit and whitish flecks. Maybe it was only because he was the first white man I'd seen on the streets that the thought occurred to me that he must have been about my dad's age. He was squatting on the sidewalk almost meditatively, a styrofoam cup between his feet. We locked eyes, and he stayed fast. Even though I kept walking, I turned my head to hold his gaze. Then the strangest thing happened. It was as if I had forgotten all about my own fifteen year old, freckled face, my height, my white, and there I was, him, squatting over a styrofoam cup, not thirty years later, but right then, at that moment.

I dropped my eyes first, defeated, silently cursing myself.

"You cold?" Michael asked.

"Nah, I'm all right." I looked back at the man, who hadn't turned his gaze, only nodded in condolence, with an understated, somehow knowing smile.

We started walking downhill, my sweaty toes jamming into the tips of my old sneakers. The bag that held and hid my new high tops thumped against my hip.

"Hey," my brother said and started running. Down the street a Muni bus just began to pull away from the curb. I sprinted and caught up.

The driver stopped for us and we jumped on, into the warmth and fluorescent glow of the bus. Michael dropped enough change for both of us and I grabbed a seat from behind the driver. I guess it was just a habit from when I was a little kid and my mom told me always to sit by the driver for safety, in case there was a--

"Hey," my brother said, tugging my sleeve, "get up."

"What? Why?" I looked around but didn't see any little old ladies in dire need of a front seat, though the look on my brother's face made me think I'd just stolen a seat from Rosa Parks herself. "Just do it. C'mon." He walked to the back of the bus and I followed him.

We sat at the very back, watching the neon and traffic ahead of us through the long tube of the bus. "You always want to sit at the back of the bus, so you can watch whoever comes on. Just like in a bar or a restaurant. You want the chair against the wall."

The only other person on the bus was a Mexican teenager in grease-stained, fire-proof, hound's tooth kitchen pants, sleeping with his head against the glass, his baseball cap bouncing off the window with every bump in the road.

The bright light in the bus made it hard to see out the windows, but after a few minutes Michael poked me and said, "This is it." We jumped out the back doors of the bus and found ourselves in front of the Daly City BART station. The tracks overhead rumbled as a train shuddered and peeled away. "Shit," he said, looking at his watch, "I think we just missed the last train."

We walked deeper into the huge, open-air concrete structure. I leaned on a pay phone while my brother walked over to a black and white poster with times and destinations printed all over it. I watched him scrutinize the numbers and check his watch, and I was a little mystified. I had no idea this was what he did with his time, running talent shows in poor neighborhoods and then skulking about BART stations late at night. He was so different from the big brother I used to share a room with. Was this him, or his alter ego? I had no idea that he had a little army of black kids that clambered about and hung over him like vines, calling him "Sarge." What was I seeing? The man, or his secret identity?

Just then, standing there by the pay phone, I remembered a day, about a decade before, when I was in kindergarten, and my mom had to pull me from school to go pick up my brother from the Oakland police station for a second time. He must have been about sixteen. My mom spent the day talking to plainclothes cops in hushed voices and terse whispers, finally keeping Michael from going to jail. That was how the volunteer work started, one of the many conditions my brother had to meet to stay under her roof. An all-league athlete, Michael chose the Special Olympics. After that, everything kind of mushroomed.

"Well, we're stuck," he said, finally.

"Isn't there anyone we could call?"

He shook his head. "Everyone at the house is in Ohio, getting the fraternity ready to go national."

"What about Mom?"

"She wouldn't come -- Dad would come. And that wouldn't be for at least an hour and half. And besides, it's already midnight."

"Well, then. What now?"

My brother seemed to mull something over. I watched his eyes. I knew the creature won when they glinted and he smiled. "You still got those Buick keys?"

"These?" I asked, pulling my key ring from my bag. They were the keys to my '56 Buick (formerly my Dad's), a car that hadn't run since he brought it home, and probably never would. We'd been working on it since I was twelve. "Why?"

"Just hang on," he said, taking the keys. We started walking away from the station and into the shadows. "Keep your eyes peeled for an old GM," he said.


"Just be a sport."

As we walked through different neighborhoods, I looked. I pointed out a rusted-out '52 Chevy on blocks. "No good," he said. Neither was a '63 Chevy truck, or a '58 Pontiac, that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a '57 Ford.

"Here we go," he said, walking toward a 1962 Impala that sat partially hidden in the shadows between an appliance repair shop and a dark house with bars on the windows. Michael looked over his shoulders. "Let me see that key."

I watched as my brother crept up to the car and slid my key in the lock. I heard some grinding, them a pop. My brother chuckled. "Get over here," he tried to yell in a whisper.

We jumped in the car, closing the doors gently. Inside it was eerily quiet. "General Motors did a lot of things right, but one thing they sucked at was keys. It's pretty well-known, in some circles, that most old GM keys will fit most old GM locks," Michael whispered, pushing me down and out of sight. "Now, for the moment of truth." He pumped the gas and put the key in the ignition, but it wouldn't turn. "Crap," he said. "Ignitions aren't always as easy as doors. Get back down." He slid down under the dash, contorting his massive body. "Damn. I can't see anything down here."

"Hang on," I gasped softly, producing a box of matches from my bag and handing them to my brother. "What the -- what the hell is this?" He said, sitting back up on the bench. "Have you been smoking?" "Well," I said, proud to casually mention my latest adult endeavor, "I have, but I--"

The punch came so fast, I never saw it, just felt the sudden, gasping burn as is fist buried itself into my chest. "Don't ever let me find out you've been smoking again. Or I swear to God I'll kick your ass. Now give me those matches."

I tried, limply, to hand them over. I couldn't talk, it was almost too much just to hold back the hot tears from falling down my cheeks. I doubled over on the bench, again out of sight. My brother struck a match on the side of the box, the orange flame dancing shadows across his face, the sudden chemical smell stinging my nostrils. He pulled two wires out from under the dash, one green, one red, and quickly blew the match out. He sat up, still hunching down, and used my key to pop off the plate from the ignition hole, sliding out the mechanism, leaving just the circular black hole in the dash. Everything was done so quickly, so expertly, I couldn't speak, even when my breath finally came back. He fished a quarter out of his pocket and wedged it in the hole. It fit flush and snug. He gently tapped his foot on the gas, priming the carburetor. "Now we see," he said.

He touched the two wires to the quarter, and with a crackling spark, the engine came to life. Michael threw the car into reverse and softly rolled out into the street. After a couple blocks of silence, he pulled out the headlights switch and the street before us swam in white light.

"Two white kids from the suburbs just stole an old, beat-up car from Daly City," he said. "Now that probably doesn't happen every day."

I didn't speak.

"Hey," he said, "I'm sorry I hit you. It was wrong of me."

"It's okay," I said, thinking it was a lie but knowing it was true.

And that's how I stole my first car. Or rather, how I watched my first car being stolen.

Then he said, "Trust me, it's not a habit you want to start. Really."

"What? Stealing cars?"

"No, smoking. Well, stealing cars, too, I guess."

I was a nervous wreck on the way home. Every second, I was sure, was our last before certain incarceration. But we made it all the way to the Bay Bridge, then across the black water, then into Oakland, incident free. We drove through industrial West Oakland, avoiding freeways and main thoroughfares, keeping to dark, empty streets, places where two white guys in a car would be the least of a cop's troubles.

We left the warehouses and factories behind, and drove over the Fruitvale Bridge into Alameda, safe on home territory. But, instead of heading to our parents' house, Michael turned left as soon as we got off the bridge. He killed the lights and eased into a slot between the colossal concrete base of the bridge and an open brown dumpster. "Make sure you don't leave anything behind," he whispered, wiping the steering wheel and the dash with the sleeve of his shirt. We got out quietly, shutting the doors as gently as possible, locking the doors. He gave my keys back.

The moon hung low, in a crescent, its pale light spilling and rippling across the estuary that separated my town from Oakland.

"How you boys doin'?"

I could sense my brother almost jump out of his skin as I felt the cold drain of life leaving my belly. Slowly, we turned around.

I all but sighed in relief as I saw that the voice didn't belong to the long arm of the law, but stabbed through the shadows from a dark and bent figure, fishing off the small pier tucked under the bridge. Through the gloom I could see him, looking over his shoulder at us. He was a grizzly old man with most of his face obscured by the bill of his yellow baseball cap. He leaned against the bowed rail, his body sagging into the peeling and chipped wood, the bridge arching high above him. His empty pole was the only straight line in view. How much had he seen?

"Any luck?" Michael asked.

"Augh," the man grumbled, "Just this," he said, nodding to a plastic grocery bag at his feet. We stepped forward, cautiously, and saw a yellow skate, its dead, black eyes gleaming in the moonlight that seemed to make its pale skin glow.

"Pretty," my brother said.

"Nice," I agreed.

"Bah," he coughed. "Nothin' but bottom-feeders in these waters. Bullheads and skates, bullheads and skates." I felt kind of repulsed. I didn't know anyone who would eat anything caught in that water. "Well, then," Michael said, taking a step back, "You have a good night."

"Good luck," I said, waving to the man, trying in vain to see his eyes through the darkness.

He nodded and Michael and I started on the long walk to our parents' house, through streets that were safe to walk at night. I heard a rattle and saw he was shaking my box of matches. "Hey," he said, "Wanna see a trick?"

"Sure..." I said, guardedly.

"You ever seen a match burn twice?"

"N-no...twice? How can you do that?"

"All right then," he said, stopping. He took out one match, and struck it on the side of the box. It spat and swelled into a huge phosphorus flame. "Burning once," he said, holding it up, then blowing it out. Suddenly, he grabbed my shocked hand in his and jammed the smoldering stick into my arm.

"Goddamn," I yelled, trying to rub the pain out of my skin, "That hurts!"

"Burning twice," he said, laughing, letting go of my hand.

©1999 by Benjamin Reed

Benjamin Reed is twenty-four and lives in Austin, having recently graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in English. He is currently seeking publication for his first novel, "The Bow Tie Gang," a story about working-class, teenage hot-rodders in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1961.

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