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Fiction

Hotheaded

Sixth in a series of short summer reads from Geist and The Tyee.

Stephen Smith 8 Aug 2007TheTyee.ca

"Hotheaded" won a third prize in the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. The 4th annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest is open and accepting submissions now. For more information visit: http://www.geist.com/postcard-contest.php.

Stephen Smith is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, author of Ear to the Ice, a work-in-progress about the culture of hockey and vice versa.

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'Dean made a disparaging remark -- snide. That's how it started.'

We put out a big fire and surprised ourselves at the same time. We weren't professional firefighters, none of us was, just strangers happening by who saw the fire and took care of it. None of us even liked fires. It was the courthouse burning. I know what it sounds like: smouldery cinders, a quaint little cigarette situation, wastebasket, Kleenex. No. This was the whole courthouse blazing away. Big legal flames leaping out of windows, black frightful smoke with lush orange fringes. Gutters and downspouts were melting where they stood. I don't know where the real firefighters were. We got in there and we did our best. My Luisa hauled a bailiff out of a stairwell. Spee made sure the roof didn't collapse. Dean beat up on a spot-fire with a gavel he found. It was unbelievable.

Heroes? "What we are," said Flor, "is four energetic couples who took the trouble to knock down a big burn." She shrugged. "That's what they say, knock down. That's the lingo."

Afterwards, at the Spees' house, we sat and drank the wine Spee poured. Spee had a carp pond he'd built. Mrs. Spee offered crackers, soft cheese. She had walnuts. Later she showed us her grafts. She was breeding hawthorn trees, oneseed hawthorns with cockspurs, blacks with dotteds. Whatever new hawthorn she crafted, she got to name it. "So I'm excited."

We had pulled muscles and dilated eyeballs, the jitters and (some of us) the shakes. "We'll have to have a reunion," Dean ventured. "We can have it at my house."

We drank a bit, ate. Branco waggled a spear of asparagus to illustrate a point. Out of us all he had the reinforced elbows on his jacket and pants that didn't show the soot. Luisa had a book of circus photos she'd liberated from a main-floor anteroom. "Look at this one," she said, holding up clown after clown, bearded ladies, the human howitzer act from Romania.

Dean was on a mission to find himself a birthday present. "That's where I was going," he said. "I'm hard to buy for. People never know what to get me." His grin grew. His wife scowled and mimed for us a crushing weight borne, just barely, on her shoulders.

It's not easy to get into a fight with someone who's a friend from putting out a huge fire, but you can do it. Dean made a disparaging remark -- snide. That's how it started. Spee was willing to let it go, but Flor and Branco took his umbrage for him and soon had him goaded into standing up for himself. It would have been entertaining, if it wasn't us. It was us, though, and no one was backing down. We all wanted a say, everyone taking a turn holding one of the knives, kicking a chair, telling Spee what for. We rubbed him the wrong way. He stank of ashes, and we told him so, because it was true.  [Tyee]

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