Couple summers back, I pulled up on the shoulder of Highway 60 and bought a string of Black Cats from the firecracker shack outside Umbarger, out of pity for the proprietor. I ain’t never seen no customers at that stand before, and no one knew where the man come from, or where he lived, or how he took his profit. The man didn’t say a word when I handed over my money, just gave over the firecrackers in return. I tried to catch his eyes, but they was folded too deeply into those wrinkled sockets of his.
Back home I took the boy out of his bed and we lit up them firecrackers in the weedy brush near the barbwire on our property. But these firecrackers, they didn’t pop normal. The cracking was delayed, like if the sound traveled over a good distance, and the popping come out all muffled, like as if we was hearing their reports from miles away, though we was standing right close by.
“Somethin’s wrong with them firecrackers,” my boy said.
“I don’t know what,” I said back to him. But I admitted to him that I never had heard nothin like them firecrackers. The boy said I ought to take them back to the man, ask for some others, but I wanted to be done with it.
We both took ill in due time. I fought and recovered, but the sickness took my boy away. Sometimes in the night, I still hear them muffled pops, like the stars is crackling in the sky above my house. On them nights, I wake to sweating and shivering.
I ain’t stopped by that firecracker stand since I lost my boy, though I’ve had a mind to. In the summertime, I still see that old yellow shack there, with its big black cat painted on the side of it. I think I might like to say to that man, “You done took my boy away.” But I know it sounds like crazy talk, I know it. But I ain’t never felt a need to buy nothin more from that man with the deep eye sockets. No sir.
by Jonathan Baker
- Three years ago, Jonathan Baker quit his job in New York City, as the assistant to the editor-in-chief at W.W. Norton & Co., and moved to his hometown in West Texas to write full time. He currently works as a news curator for High Plains Public Radio, and he hold a master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago. His fiction recently appeared in (mac)ro(mic) and was featured on The Other Stories podcast.