It took but only two screenings of Disney/Pixar’s “Up” for my brother Henry to show a sudden interest in becoming a Boy Scout. The badges, the outfit, the praise for assisting elders across busy streets; all of it appealed to him and he was set on basking in the lifestyle till his body gave out. Henry’s first order of business was to start a fire with various fallen branches from the sycamore in our backyard. He’d scour the grass for the best-looking ones and with a stick in each hand, sat crouching beside Dad’s tool shed where the pyrotechnic shenanigans began.
Though I was neither religious nor had issues with those who were, I couldn’t help but notice how the formation of sticks resembled a cross. Which was appropriate considering I prayed the neighbors wouldn’t step outside and think, “Hm, I wonder what that hobo is doing shitting in the Johnson’s yard?” Many hours were spent observing Henry as he rubbed, picked up, and readjusted his sticks in hopes of achieving a task which a lighter would have finished in half the time. Mom said the competitive spirit was ingrained within him long before birth, joking that Henry was stiff-arming sperms left and right in the race towards her highly coveted egg cell.
“And as you can see,” she said, directing towards Henry with a hand flourish reserved for auctioneers. “He won.”
He was resilient, I’ll give him that. Steadfast in his stick rubbing despite knowing damn well the chances of catching even a single spark were slim to none. With twenty-four years of life experience, I’ve accepted that some things just aren’t worth fighting for. Dad came downstairs and asked what I was looking at. Signalling towards an empty spot beside me, we watched as Henry tossed aside his current sticks, which were whittled down to thin twigs, in search of new contenders.
“At least the kids got good form,” Dad said. “Asian squats are excellent for pelvic mobility.”
“Shouldn’t one of us go out and talk some sense into that brain of his?”
“Why don’t you do it? You’re older than him.”
“You’re older than both of us.”
I continued observing through the screen as Dad made his way outside. Henry was far too preoccupied to notice the looming figure standing over him. Some words were exchanged, arms were flailed, and sticks were thrown across the yard. Henry scrammed for them while Dad lunged after, dragging him by his ankles across the freshly cut grass.
“Let it go, damn it!” Dad yelled. “I’ll get you a Zippo for Christmas!”
“Get your hands off me!”
Blowing off excess debris, Henry kept rubbing the sticks together with a vigor that was unlike him to possess. For the first time in our seven years of kinship, my Henry was unrecognizable. I watched from the living room as he wrestled for two slivers of wood, unaware that the fire within was not only burning, but swallowing him whole.
Nam Hoang Tran writes from a MacBook Pro somewhere in Orlando, Fl. His work appears in various places and collectively at www.namhtran.com. He enjoys grapes.