The Matchbox

By Theresa Chamberland

One day, when I’m eight years-old, I hear my dad’s voice in my head. “I better never catch any of you playing with matches.”

Less than a month later, my oldest brother Dave is in charge while Dad’s at work and Mom’s grocery shopping. If Dave sees what we’re doing, he will knock our heads together like he did last week. That really hurt.

I’m in our 1960s ranch house, with my other brothers Rick and Mark, in the front room of the cellar. They’re standing between the TV and the bar where Mom and Dad sometimes entertain friends. I’m across the room sitting on Dave’s bed, watching them playing with matches and burning things.

I want to light a match too. I’m the youngest and the only girl and I’m scared to watch them. I’m also spellbound. When they aren’t looking, I sneak over to where they are, grab a matchbox and a piece of newspaper, and hurry back to Dave’s bed. I pull out a long red-tipped wooden matchstick and drag it along the rough side of the box. Nothing happens. They don’t see what I’m doing. I slide another match, quickly this time, and it lights up. A stinky smell goes up my nose. Yuck! As the fire burns down the stick I put the flame to the newspaper like my brothers did. The paper burns fast. I panic and run over to a wicker trash basket and toss in the burning paper. Poof! A large flame shoots up and I scream.

My brothers race over, Rick grabs the burning basket, and we all run to the back room. Rick throws a blanket over the basket and the fire goes out. He looks us straight in the eyes, with big brother authority, and says, “If anyone asks, you don’t know anything. Got it?”

Mark and I nervously nod our heads in sibling alliance.

Rick picks up the blanket and we see a big black burn hole, a hole too big to hide. On the move again, Rick unlocks the cellar door Dad has forbidden us to use. We follow Rick up the steps to the outdoor trash can and Mark and I gawk as Rick buries the basket and blanket deep under the smelly garbage. He turns to us and again says, “Remember, you don’t know anything!”

We rush back inside and Rick locks the door behind us. They flop onto the couch and watch TV as if nothing ever happened. I run up to my bedroom and shut the door. Leaning my back against my door I slide to the floor, wrap my hands around my knees, close my eyes and catch my rushing breath.

I’m startled when I hear Dave curse and yank on the stubborn bathroom door. Another sudden surge of energy bolts through my body as the kitchen door squeaks open and Mom shouts, “David? Where are you? Go out to the car and bring in the rest of the groceries.”

\"\"Theresa Chamberland is a retired Director of Web Development from Mount Holyoke College. Presently she teaches Creative Writing and Memoir at the Springfield Museums in Massachusetts. She also owns and operates, a video production company. Her current memoir writing project is titled The Love Bug.

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