By L.B. Davis
They were doing road repairs in my neighborhood, so I had to take an alternate route to work. That’s not why I was late, though. I left with plenty of time, and I live fifteen minutes from work with no highway travel. Today, curiosity made me late.
On one of the side streets, I noticed an older gentleman carrying a bucket. The man was carrying it awkwardly, with his hands under the rim and his arms fully extended between his legs. I couldn’t tell how far he would be carrying it, but he was struggling, and I wanted to know what was in that bucket.
I circled the block and went back to offer him a ride. He hesitated, looked at the bucket and then at me, with a look that asked if I mind the bucket. I nodded my approval, and he gladly accepted the ride.
He got in, and I smelled it right away. Gasoline. Mystery solved. Fuck.
Up close, I could see he wasn’t as old as I thought. He just looked worn down: sunken eyes, stubbly beard. His clothes weren’t noticeably dirty but unkempt, and had that unwashed laundry smell. It looked like he was having a generally rough go at things.
I asked where he was going. He told me he was parked in the VFW lot a couple blocks away. Curious thing. We weren’t near any gas station, and he had been toting a bucket of gasoline for blocks. In fact, the VFW is closer to a gas station than where I picked him up. Ignoring my better judgement, I asked him where the gas came from.
A wry smile crossed his face. He said he’d siphoned the gas from a guy over on Harrison St.—someone he knew.
I said, “So you ran out of gas and decided to walk to this guy’s place, and siphon his gas—right in front of his house? Damn. Sounds personal.”
I didn’t want to know more, and he wasn’t grinning anymore.
“He took something that belonged to me,” he said, “so, I took something that belonged to him.” He looked at me with equal parts malice and mischief, daring me to inquire further. I declined. I just nodded. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was glad we didn’t have far to go.
We got to his car—a ’96 Camry. As I started to pull away, it occurred to me that he may need some help. He had a bucket full of gasoline. I had no idea how he would get it in the tank. Surely, he didn’t intend to pour it in.
I didn’t have the nerve to ask if he could use a hand, but I decided to hang around to see how his plan developed. I watched him through my rearview in amused anticipation.
He went around to the driver’s side, opened the front door and proceeded to pour the contents of the bucket throughout the car. I didn’t move. I watched him sit in the car and close the door. I watched him strike the match. I watched the flames engulf him.
I sat in stunned inaction. I didn’t dial 911, but they came soon. I had no hope of making it to work on time, so I just sat and watched. I never saw him move. He must have gone up quick.