Dec 3, 2009

Back when Beaumont was mostly still a white street

He threw the gas cap, flinging it back as soon as he had it uncapped. It was one half twist left and loose, off and he flung it. His hands were shaking he was so mad.

The gas cap hit the pavement, pocked it, bouncing with a dull ding and rolling into the trash in the gutter of Beaumont. The black bag was split open, spilling out, the diapers and fast food wrappers, receipts and rotting meat bones spilled out into the pile of pieces of paper and stray cigarette butts scattered and bits of glass broken and sparkling there. In the middle of it all a box of frozen spinach was melting, a mush, oozing a mottled green, and the gas cap hit the box and hid behind a Big Mac bag that rustled.

The man's hands were thick, his fingers, fleshy. The hair on his arm continued up on the back of his hands and the first joints of his fingers had sparse hairs sprouting brown. He had plumber's PVC glue stained on his pointer and middle finger, the sealant a shiny, peeling skin. His knuckles were red from the cold and his nails were cut back but square, like the heads a screw drivers. He wrapped his hands around the T shirt he had, twisting and wringing it until it was wound tight like a thick rope, and then he fed it down the throat of the gas tank.

It took two tries to light the match. He was shaking and there was a November wind. Then he had it.

The parked police cruiser didn't explode but the fire seemed to flicker for a moment and then inhale, take a deep breath, and then the whole car was on fire. The black paint on the back bubbled and burned, the windows shattered and the ceiling liner was consumed except for black bits that fluttered up with the smoke. The headlight covers cracked, the tire under the gas tank popped and the paint on the police lights melted and ran. Someone called the fire department and said there was a police car on fire in front of the plumber's house at 19772 on Beaumont, so everyone was screaming to the scene to see if an officer was hurt and asking what part of Beaumont that was that, block or white. Almost everyone was there, including the chief who, if he won, would be the last white mayor, when the black officer came out unexplained and with his shirt unbuttoned from behind the plumber's house.

The smoke seemed to boil up in the afternoon, unfolding fragments of burnt police car up into the city sky. It sounded like a gargle from a dry throat, and that was all. The plumber walked the other way, swearing incoherently and wanting to punch something. He grabbed a bag that was wet on the bottom and threw it into a wall, but it just left a wet spot and a smell on a his hands.