"Bitterness is like cancer, it eats upon the host. But anger is like fire, it burns it all clean."
Mrs. Daley stepped to the kitchen window and looked out.
Out there in the early evening air a black man stood as motionless as a statue in front of a raging bonfire, his massive shoulders hunched and arms stiff at his sides. He wore his favorite London footballers club jersey that he had wore for the past ten years and he said nothing to no one as he simply stared into the twisting and contorting flames and did not know she watched.
The man was her son, and everyone called him Semtex, the name of an explosive used by the British special forces.
Semtex finally moved and began to collect more brush to throw on his bonfire and the flames licked the air passionately with each new addition. He then pulled out a matchbook from his pocket and one by one began to flick lit matches into the fire until he was all out.
After his private ritual Semtex walked into the house and did not look at his mother but went straight to the table where she had prepared two slices of pumpkin pie for him while Mrs. Daley busied herself carving jack o' lanterns for her sons Halloween party.
Looking at him, all 220 muscled pounds, hunched over the kitchen table greedily smacking at his pie one would never suspect that he was thirty years old. As he ate with one hand his other hand fondled his cherished zippo lighter, sending sharp flick-snaps through the kitchen.
Mrs. Daley was used to it. She was used to him.
She heard him every night in the backyard rummaging for timber and other debris to burn, she saw the shadowy flames dancing and shifting through her bedroom window, she would smell the acrid smoke wafting throughout the house. She was used to all these things because her beloved son had shown an intense fascination with fire ever since that fateful day twenty four years ago.
Mrs. Daley cleared her throat, "is the pie good sweetie?"
"Yeah mum," he said.
"I hope I didn't add too much cinnamon."
"It's good mum."
"I'm glad you like it, you know I would do anything for you sweetie."
"Yeah," he said, smacking away.
"What time is your party?"
"Eight o'clock." He finished the last of his pie and threw his plate in the sink."Sonya is bringing some of her friends along with some of the blokes from Woodside. Got us two jugs of Ale."
Semtex headed for his bedroom in a hurried, clumsy gait. In the room Mrs. Daley could hear muted rumblings and sounds of great exertion and her son came back the the door of the kitchen several minutes later in his costume; a Metropolitan firefighters uniform that was far too snug for his muscular frame complete with a helmet and little foam ax.
"Look at me mum I'm one of them Hosers!"
Mrs. Daley laughed as he walked with an exaggerated stiffness, swinging the tiny ax and pretending to be one of London's bravest.
"You'll be the life of the party!" Mrs. Daley cried, wiping tears from her eyes.
The phone rang.
Semtex waddled to his bedroom to take it. She could not make out his voice clearly but she could hear him arguing in a muffled tone and when she heard the final crack of the receiver she knew that the conversation had come to an end. He came slowly back into the kitchen looking like a sad and confused puppy.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Semtex rubbed at his helmet sheepishly and said, "oh, that was Billy from Woodside. He – uh, they aren't gonna be able to make it to the party, I guess they have other plans."
"Awww, that's a shame. At least there'll be plenty of food and drinks for you and your lady friends now."
He stood there fiddling with the ax, the same vacant, indiscernible look in bis eyes that she was so used to seeing. She was used to his disappointments and she was used to his "friends", high school aged boys who only seemed to come around to smoke reefer with him or use him to buy liquor since they were not of age and then the high schoolers graduated to go on to universities or trade schools and then there were new high school kids coming around to replace the old ones and they too would come along to smoke reefer and use her son for alcohol.
My son. Mrs. Daley thought. My sweet, sweet boy. They hardly talked anymore, as he would just sleep all day while his waking hours were burnt away to smoke and Mrs. Daley just wondered, in all the years of his thirty year existence where did things go so wrong for him and she did not have to think long, because when her son was just six years old, he had witnessed his father being burned alive an a horrific car accident.
Now he stood before her, a man grown but always her little boy, as rigid as a piece of bent steel, and Mrs. Daley was afraid that one day if he was pushed just the wrong way, he would...snap.
"Don't just stand there," she urged. "You got a party to set up."
"I guess," he said bitterly.
The phone rang again.
"Good grief, what now?" Semtex moped into his room to take the call. As quiet as a mouse Mrs. Daley went into the kitchen and softly lifted the phone receiver.
"Hey 'Tex, it's Sonya," a girls sing-song voice floated through the phone.
"Oh...hey," came her sons deadpan response.
"Look I'm really sorry but me and the girls aren't gonna be able to make it tonight, Sammy's mum isn't feeling too good so they took her to the hospital."
"It's OK. I...I hope she feels better."
"Yeah me too. Listen we were planning on going to the Tyler, the Creator concert in Manchester next weekend, you wanna come along?"
A pregnant pause punctuated the line and then Semtex said, "Next weekend eh? Give you plenty of time to come up with another excuse?"
Mrs. Daley closed her eyes.
"What? No 'Tex it's not like that. An emergency came up, that's all, I still want to hang out with you."
"Well I'm busy next weekend, I'll let you know for some other time."
Another cringe worthy pause filled the air, "OK... I guess." Sonya said flatly.
"Goodbye." Without so much as another word Semtex hung up the phone.
Mrs. Daley returned the phone to its cradle and rushed to the sink to appear busy as he skulked back into the kitchen. He stood there, the same way he always did, her son, the same man who would rather loiter about with boys then go out and have fun with girls.
"Who was it?" Mrs. Daley asked gently.
"Well...it must've been someone."
Semtex said nothing as he walked to the counter where the jack o' lanterns were placed, scooped one of them up in his massive hands and with an anguished cry hurled the vegetable against the wall where it exploded in a burst of pulp. To her horror, Mrs. Daley found herself clutching the knife she had used for the pie and let it clatter into the sink. For what seemed like an eternity neither spoke.
"Bastards," Semtex finally mumbled. "Bastards, the whole lot of 'em!"
"I'm so sorry sweetie."
"it's whatever mum. Pour the Ale down the sink, I don't care."
"No, no! We can still have a good time, just you and me. Why don't you pour me a cup of that Ale and let's get this party started!"
Mother and son made a toast to each other, ate leftover pumpkin pie and ice cream, played board games, watched reruns of Dr. Who on the telly, and around one o'clock, long after the last of the Ale had been drunk, Mrs. Daley could hear Semtex out in the yard as she lay in bed, alone.
At a quarter to two he finally came inside the house.
For a long while all he did was just stand outside of her bedroom door, not moving. Then, the door softly opened and he came into the dark room.
"Mum, mum? Can you hear me?"
Mrs. Daley feigned drowsiness and faced him in the darkness. She couldn't tell if he still wore his firefighters costume but she would not be surprised one bit if he did.
"What is it sweetie?"
"Can I sleep with you for the night? Please?"
"Of course you can."
Without another word he crawled onto the bed next to her in a spot that had been empty for many years. He lay there and did not move but she could feel the bed tremble ever so slightly, as if he were sobbing.
And then she heard the sharp flick-snaps of his zippo lighter clicking away like some giant, dark beetle.
She wanted to scream at him to stop with that bloody lighter, she wanted to pluck it from his fingers and throw it across the room.
But then what would he do with his hand?
I can give him something to put in his hand.
I can give him something to hold, to fondle, oh God I can give him something to squeeze, to caress, oh yes.
Mrs. Daley did the only thing she could do. With a trembling hand she reached out and tenderly traced her fingernail down her sons back.
"You were always such a handsome young man."