Chapter 26: The Zippo

James gave me the Zippo as a Valentine’s day present. We were in the school library and his girlfriend just dumped him. I opened the box and removed the lighter. It was brushed steel without embellishment. The metallic click of its opening was instantly addicting. It lit on the first spark with a lazy oily yellow flame. I became an expert with this lighter.

In the high school locker room, surrounded by people wanting to beat me up. Aerosol plus Zippo equals defensive flamethrower. I burned my way out.

I started small fires everywhere. In restaurant bathrooms, in my school and in my house. I used the lighter to light countless fuses, once I caught shrapnel in my ass, another time one went off in my hand, scarring me for life. The lighter was with me always, even though I never smoked. On a double date, James made a snide remark to me about the girl I was with. I politely used the Zippo to light his sweater on fire for the insult. Most teenagers carried knives, I was naked without that lighter.

The Zippo was in my pocket when I was arrested. It went into a white box with the rest of my belongings. I had a pair of combat boots, old jeans and a button up shirt. They let me keep my socks and underwear. I did not see the box for two years.

I stood naked in a hallway with thirty other men. I was used to it. I submitted to the search with a smile- it was to be my last one. Gary, my right hand was there, we were being released together. Up until a moment ago, we had been purposely annoying the entire group by incessantly humming and whistling the pink panther theme for the past hour. What were they going to do? Drop us?

The mood in the hallway was elated. We were each handed old white cardboard boxes. I put the jeans on commando style and buttoned up my shirt. I stole a pair of issue socks while the guards weren’t looking. No laces. The Zippo gleamed at me from the bottom corner of the box. I quickly slipped in my pocket as they were preparing to open the door.

It sits on a shelf glinting in the lazy ceiling fan light. I replaced the flints, the cotton, the wick, but I haven’t been able to get it to light. I occasionally put fresh fluid in it, and all it does is spark. Someone told me once to send it to the company, and they will replace it for free. I couldn’t part with it. It has been cold for years, but it still feels alive, just waiting.

I have been teaching myself how to play guitar. To hide the fact that I don’t know any chords, I have been experimenting with various slides. The shot glass was too awkward, the plastic Bic was better. I was walking past my shelf and noticed the old Zippo. Without thinking, I cupped it into my hand and picked up my guitar. Slow mellow blues tones filled the room. Time was irrelevant, I was lost in it. I haven’t played with the lighter for anyone yet. It is our secret.

On a whim, I refilled the fluid. I flipped open the lid and struck the wheel. It lit on the first spark with a lazy oily yellow flame. I watched it, mesmerized. I watched the flame until the metal grew too hot to hold. I quickly closed it and dropped it into its familiar place in my pocket, feeling its warmth.

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