Slide Show

The original intention was to ride the merry-go-round. Push one another in the swing set. Run through the sprinklers if they were on. But within two blocks of the elementary school, the houses’ paneling had begun to reflect a yellowish glow, too bright to have come from the moon. Soon, they saw the slide—its thick, wide plastic sections, red, riveted together into that slight curve—in flames. Someone had lit it up from the bottom. The exit’s lip already had melted, and the fire climbing slowly, like a child, up the slick incline, and the warm light it cast on the school’s brick walls and the damp green of the soccer field, were, to them, startling and beautiful at this time of night.

They laughed. It was not their elementary school, after all. She’d gone to one just down the road, and he hadn’t moved to her city until he was 16. They’d met in high school. Dated a couple of years. Graduated together that May. She’d be moving to the Northwest in a month to live with her sister. There was a community college there where she could study to be a realtor. He’d save up to move there, too, which he hoped she wouldn’t mind discovering as a surprise. For now, they were both relieved to be finished with public education. They took the slide’s fire as an anonymous graduation gift. The guilty party had left them alone, in front of that blaze together, warm as day.

She was leaning against his shoulder, half-asleep, when the Powerade bottle, half-full, dropped into her lap. The cold syrup on her thighs and the honk from the station wagon idling on the adjacent street got both of them to their feet. The passengers shouted things—Fuck you, pyros. Grow up. My little sister plays on that slide. I’m calling the cops on you—and sped off.

The fire had begun to starve out, anyway, where the slide’s first section attached to the second. She needed to change. But before they left, she tossed the Powerade bottle into the puddle of melted plastic, and he positioned it upright. As they snuck into the window well to her mother’s basement, he imagined what it would look like in the morning, those two plastics fused together. Like something vegetable. Something volcanic. Something that had emerged there and might stay there the rest of their lives.

James Davis graduated from the University of Houston in May with a bachelor’s degree in French. He plans to begin his master’s in creative writing in Fall 2008. But you know what they say about plans.