By Richie Co
I stare into the fire, tendrils of heat swirling around my face.
It is the first time I will do this. I had anticipated growing inherent wisdom, like that of the elders, but here I am at a ripe age and still rendered witless by the task ahead of me. Adulthood is a farce.
I feel the weight of my brother’s presence behind me. He has ceaselessly bragged about his first time—a fierce struggle where he almost burned himself but prevailed. Father was pleased.
Two years later, it is my turn, and my brother refuses to teach me.
“Hurry!” His voice pierces the air, and I jolt into action.
My victim lies in a limp, damp heap beside the hearth—fleshy and raw. My brother had hauled it out from the icebox earlier—the only place it could be contained before it meets its fate.
My breath catches as I seize the critter, and the gashes my brother had slashed across its body bloom and ooze anew. I could have sliced it well myself, but I have yet to earn the right to wield the family dagger.
The slimy creature threatens to slip free. But before it can, I steel myself and fling it to the fire. It screeches and smoke shoots into the air. Wild sparks propel onto my arm and my face.
I dive towards shelter, checking for injury while my sibling snickers from a safe distance.
The sparks cease at last, but I know the battle is far from over. Creeping from my refuge, I inch sideways to the beast writhing in the heat. My arm extended to its limit, I nudge it with steel prongs and jump a tentative step back. The creature rocks with no more than a defeated, low hiss.
I advance with more resolve and prod the miserable thing. The hiss crackles with more urgency. My courage falters, but I decide against a second retreat.
“Stab it already.” My brother’s impatience bears heavier than the heat.
I swallow. Would it send out sparks again if I do? I wonder whether that brother of mine is coaching me to succeed or coaxing me to fail.
The airy steam that had initially filled the chamber is now turning into denser, charred fumes. I want to be thorough, but my brother may be right. Father has always been kind to me, but I am a man now. He may not grant me as much patience.
I jab. My prongs slide off the creature’s slimy skin. I punch the prongs over and over, and my brother erupts in a hateful cackle as the damned thing rolls each time, evading me.
At last, I lunge at it with decided force, its final defense of scalding smog engulfs me as I skewer the beast.
It is done. With deliberate care, I pick up the vanquished, its slender body staked through my mighty prongs, and lay it on a slab. I shroud it with gold and red as is the custom of our house.
“Here’s your hotdog, Dad.” I enter the dining room. “With ketchup and mustard.”
Dad tussles my hair. “Good job.”
“There was water in the frying pan when he poured the oil,” my brother protests. “And oil was shooting all around the kitchen!”
Dad bites the crunchy black hotdog with the fork I used to cook it with, the generous condiments sliding off his chin. He gives me a thumbs-up and drains a glass of water.