While stationed in Spain, one of my friends had his car set on fire. They did it, I’m assuming, because he was American. They didn’t know he had a Confederate flag in his room. Come to think of it, he deserved to have his car set on fire.
I set the woods behind my parents’ house on fire. Bored one autumn, I started lighting leaves and stamping them out and relighting other leaves and stamping those out and one time they spread too fast so that the fire kept growing faster than I could stamp. I remember running in a circle, slamming my feet into the earth and the fire yawning this larger and wider O that seemed like it was going to spread across the whole earth. The neighbors ran out with buckets and I got grounded. It’s a good word for my punishment—grounded. Later in life, when you do stupid mistakes like that, you get fired. Ground and fire.
A friend set his face on fire. He was trying to do a trick where you blow a spray of alcohol from your mouth and light it circus-style. The flames shot into his face. Afterwards, he was angry because he asked someone to take a photo and they said they didn’t because they were concerned for him.
I went to a pagan ceremony while an undergrad studying religion. They lit a bonfire and started dancing and I snuck into the bushes and got down on the grass and watched, ready to run if any demons appeared. After awhile I realized it was just people dancing around a fire. Now I hang out with witches fairly often. I traced my mother’s roots and found she had an ancestor twelve generations ago accused of witchcraft. I told my mom and she said we had a relative in Washington who was recently accused of witchcraft. It’s in our blood. My mom’s a Karjalainen in her ancestry and has roots traced back to Karjala in the days when Columbus was still alive and wearing his fucked-up hat.
A very good friend is an engineer and she used to work in a burn-victim unit and when she talks about it she gets excited because she couldn’t believe all of the things she spent years learning could go to help people so much. Now she works for a makeup company and feels bad sometimes that she’s part of the trillionaire capitalistic beauty brainwash of America. She said she visited a factory in China and discovered they gave one bucket of water to a row of women who worked on the line and they had to use that same water for a week, so they’d wash by standing over the bucket and splashing themselves with dirty water. She said she had a male roommate who flew in to examine another factory and the owner took him golfing and paid girls to be their caddies and one of the girls straddled the hole naked and he putted with her like that. Then one of the other girls took him to a room and he found out she was a prostitute and he said he couldn’t not sleep with her. My friend said she’s making it so that they’re phasing out working with the factories that don’t pass quality standards for basic human rights and that’s how she can make her job worthwhile, but she said it’s much harder than that.
Ron Riekki’s nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, River Teeth, Spillway, Rattle, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Canary, Bellevue Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, Little Patuxent Review, Wigleaf, Juked, Dunes Review, New Verse News, and many other literary journals.1