The cousins have
been outside all day—even for lunch. The only time they
left the yard was to walk the two blocks to see the Flag Day Parade. There were
fire trucks, a float with the high school king and queen throwing out Fleer’s
Double Bubble into the crowd for the kids, an old-timey convertible with
geezer, Mr. Thorsen, the Parade Master, sitting on the back waving away like
they were celebrating him and his dry cleaners. There was the high school band,
the high school Gene Kelly Dancers, the grade school drummers trying to drum
and walk at the same time and kids on their bikes waving away like Old Mr.
Thorsen. The parade lasted all of twenty minutes and on the way back to Marty’s
house they all agreed that last year’s parade was better.
Once home, Marty’s
mom brought out fixings for sandwiches, loaves of
Wonder Bread and big bags of ruffled potato chips and a huge platter of
condiments in bowls: mayo, ketchup, mustard, pickles, 2 kinds of cheese, (white
and yellow), peppers (hot and sweet), onion rings still in their cans, relish,
hot sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and one of the aunts followed with the cold cuts:
bologna, salami, ham, roast beef, turkey, and sardines. Two uncles carried out
an ice chest with sodas and the aunts came back with lemonade and iced tea.
This was Marty’s
idea since everyone else always has pizza for their
parties. Marty liked being different, he was worried and tried not to show it,
but he knew his mom and dad were keeping their eyes on him.
the tables and blankets were cleared Marty’s mom came out
the back door and stood on the porch holding his birthday cake waiting for
Uncle Tony to take out his Zippo and light the candles after it was set down..
He pointed to the table with his Zippo meaning that he’d light it when it was
set down. Marty looked over at his father who slowly shook his head no and then
at his mother who gave him the evilest of evil eyes. As Marty’s mom walked down
the steps she began to shake, and Uncle Tony grabbed the cake and took it back
into the kitchen and straightened the candles. He suggested to Marty’s mom that
she go out and stand with her husband and he’d bring out the cake. As soon as
she was out the door he took a can of lighter fluid from his back pocket and
emptied it on the cake soaking its way through the frosting.
the door and started down the steps. Family and friends began
singing Happy Birthday and Marty tried not to cry. He was thinking about going
to jail the next day and no one would sing happy birthday to him there.
Mom was now jobless, and Mr. Thornton was suing his parents for
the arson that Marty committed by burning down his store and the three-family
house he owned next door. No one believed Marty that Mr. Thornton threatened to
fire his mother for stealing when they both knew it wasn’t true. Marty had a
choice—see his mother arrested or burn down Thornton Dry Cleaning and
Martinizing, for the insurance money.
The entire family
was furious with Marty for bringing the shame down on
all of them when he couldn’t bring himself to do it and sat in the corner of
the alley crying. He saw his Uncle Tony carry in a gas can, break the side door
window and unlock the door then pour the gasoline all around the store.
mom placed the big sheet cake on the picnic table and the aunts
brought out half gallons of ice cream; Neapolitan, chocolate, and strawberry,
chocolate shots (some called them Jimmy’s), Hershey’s chocolate syrup, a few
cans of whipped cream, and a jar of butterscotch syrup.
to let Marty walk up to his cake and blow out the candles
at the proper time. Uncle Tony lit the candles and with a whoosh the whole cake
went up in flames and Marty did his best to blow out the birthday fire but all
he did was burn his eyebrows off and get major burns to his face and body when
his T shirt caught on fire.
While the ambulance
was on its way so was Uncle Tony. He was heading to
the meet up spot with Mr. Thornton to collect the thousand dollars for torching
the store. Mr. Thornton came out of the shadows and as soon as he handed Uncle
Tony the money the cops surrounded them and took Tony into custody.
at the trial but was given six months as an accomplice and
Uncle Tony went away for ten years, this being his second arson conviction.
Paul Beckman’s new flash collection,
his 4th, is Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press). Paul had
a micro story selected for the 2018 Norton Anthology New Micro Exceptionally
Short Fiction. He was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions,
and his story “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen
as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. He’s widely
published in the following magazines, among others: Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review,
Matter Press, Pure Slush, Thrice Fiction, and Literary Orphans.
Paul earned his MFA from Bennington College. He hosts the monthly FBomb flash
fiction series in NY at KGB’s Red Room. He’s judged writing contests for
Cahoodaloodaling and Brilliant Flash Fiction as well as the State of New Jersey