Some Light, Some Don’t



Allen St. at Broome St. ny 10002

Neighborhood: Chinatown

We are in Chinatown looking for a good price on a Zippo lighter.

My son wants one with with no logo, no Elvis face, no Mets, no #1 Stunner in fancy script. Just plain silver, the size of a matchbox, when matchboxes were the size of matchboxes.

He’s fourteen and still looks nervous striking a match, like he’s afraid it’ll singe his fingertips, so he does the trick where you turn the matchbook cover around and you squeeze the match between the cover and the flint.

Some light.

Some don’t.

I want him to be afraid of fire. Of fire and of twenty other tragedies that can happen when I look away, when he spends the night at his best friend, Jed’s, when he goes to college and lives with kids who fall asleep drunk with lit cigarettes that fall out of ashtrays onto dry sofas.

We are in New York without his father, who is on a business trip three hundred miles away and will meet up with us in a few days.

“You’re not such a good match-striker, are you?” I say.

“I’m not afraid.”

“What do you need a lighter for, anyway?”

“At Jed’s in his driveway we set matchbooks on fire, spray them with flammables.”

“Like what?” I say.

“Final Net Hairspray,” he says.

“Are you crazy? Fire travels backwards and forwards, and the can’s going to blow up in your hand.”

“We spray and then light,” he says. “You’re not going to call his mom, are you?”

“That can is like a bomb,” I repeat. I don’t know how to impress him with the danger. When he was little I could make him afraid or not of anything.

He stands at a glass carousel and spins it around, looking for what he wants.

He finds his plain lighter, talks the merchant into a three dollar discount, and puts the Zippo in his pocket. On the subway he flips the lid open, snaps it closed without using his thumb.

“We need butane,” he says. I like the lighter empty, the annoyingly constant sound he makes because that’s all the Zippo is good for right now.

We pick up a pizza for dinner, stop at the little grocery for pineapple sherbet, and crumb cakes wrapped in saran.

On the news a woman is being considered for the world’s first face transplant. The anchor doesn’t warn us before they show her face, which is not a face, but a flat, scarred surface with nose holes and slits for eyes, no lips, bared teeth.

She is Venezuelan, and was hit by a drunk driver on her way to a family picnic. There is file footage of her in the hospital in a white mask. Her father cradles her in his arms and pets her hair. A college picture shows her before the accident, beautiful with long brown hair, bright eyes, smiling big.

“She burned for 45 seconds,” I say. “It only takes a second to get a blister.”

“Who will she look like?” he says.

“I don’t think it matters,” I say. I wonder if her father still shivers when he sees her ruined face.

My husband calls to ask about the day. Our son takes the cellular phone, flicks his lighter for him through the receiver.

“You’re gonna wear out the flint,” his father says.

“I know.” He tells him about the grossness of the girl without a face.

“I’m gonna have bad dreams tonight,” he says, but he won’t.

There are fingerprints on his Zippo, and he rubs them away with the sleeve of his sweatshirt, shines it back to new.

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