Fire Follows Fire by Steve Passey

My dad’s old business partner had some money. He attracted all sorts. Everyone had a “business proposal”. One guy had a cattle deal he was pitching. He’d recruited a few other guys, farmers mostly, and he recruited Jim. He took their money and spent it – some on cattle, some on land, but most on who knows what – and they lost it all. Some of these guys had borrowed against their farms and they were mad. They sued, every one of them except for Jim. He just shrugged it off. What is it they say about throwing good money after bad? The others put good money into lawyers and got none of the bad back so that money was gone too. All of them except for Jim had something bad happen. Fires mostly, a barn here, a haystack there, nothing with people in it, but fires. One by one they dropped their lawsuits. The guy who pitched the deal and spent their money wound up owning a used car lot. He’d tell people he was from England and had only been here a while. They’d nod and then, when he left, roll their eyes.

I was told that his own father was an honest man. He had sons too, one from each wife, (he’d left the first for the babysitter,) and I heard they weren’t too bad either.

The oldest boy was riding a motorcycle when he was hit by a car and knocked off the road not a block from our place. Someone called an ambulance. My mother ran out and laid a blanket on him. He lay under the blanket looking up at the sky and didn’t say a word. The dust from the collision and a hot and dry August hung over him and when it settled on his sweaty face, he looked like he’d just worked a long shift in a dirt mine. A single red ant crawled on him. Hornets began to settle on the bumper of the car that had hit him, licking with long tongues and prying up, with the edges of their jaws, the splattered viscera of a thousand lesser insects crushed against the car’s hard steel bumper on its path to the intersection where it met the boy and his motorcycle. The ambulance came and took him away. He had a broken leg.

My mother got her blanket back. She washed it and folded it up and put it away, but a few years later when she took it out again, she unrolled it and there, right in the center of it, was the husk of a yellow-and-black hornet only a little less bright than the ones on the bumper of the car on the day of the wreck. She washed it again, then when it was dry she went out and put it in the burning barrel and set it to fire and burnt it, stirring the embers with a rake until it was all gone.

Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collections “Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock” (Tortoise Books, 2017), “Cemetery Blackbirds” (Secret History Books, 2021), the novella “Starseed” (Seventh Terrace), and many other individual things. He is a Pushcart and Best of the Net Nominee and is part of the Editorial Collective at The Black Dog Review.