One late August afternoon, Roger Ruiz sat on a bench atop a hill that overlooked his former high school. He was wearing a white Sonics jersey, which is significant to the story because it is always nice to remember the Sonics and because in a few moments, the jersey would be covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash.
He was smoking a cigarette and was mildly concerned that this would be the one that sent him over the threshold into addiction. But more than this, his thoughts were on Mr. Garza, his former teacher who he had seen earlier in the day at the grocery store. Roger had put a loaf of rye bread in front of his face to avoid being seen. He loved Mr. Garza and was not sure why he did it. The reflexive act disturbed him enough to go atop the hill to smoke and contemplate and reflect.
Roger dropped his cigarette and made an attempt to put it out but his foot missed the still-smoldering butt. Oblivious to his mistake, he reached for another cigarette. The brown grass that had been burnt from the hot Seattle summer caught quickly. A fire about the size of the palm of a hand sprung from the earth. Startled, Roger stood up from the bench but rose too quickly and clumsily, causing him to trip. The fire grew to two palms.
Now on his back, he needed to act quickly. He aimed his body for the fire. He rolled over the flames and successfully put it out. His waxy Sonics jersey was now covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash. Everything was under control but he fled the scene, zipping down the hill towards his former school.
Later while on a jog, Mr. Garza ran slowly up to where Roger had recently been. He noticed a strange patch on the slanted face of the hill. A clean circle of dirt exposed around a blackened perimeter of barbecued grass. He patted the back of his head. The spot reminded him of his balding hair. He finished his run.
Rain poured heavy in Seattle that September. The grass on the hill greened much quicker than most years. The burnt patch began to heal, to grow.
One weekend that fall, Mr. Garza bought a Sonics hat at the mall. He took the tag off and placed it on his head immediately. The hat made him feel much better about his appearance. As he was heading back to his car he noticed Roger shopping at another store but didn’t move to say hello, thinking back to the time weeks before when he had seen him hiding behind a loaf of bread. As he remembered this, he saw Roger smiling and coming his way.
“Hey Mr. Garza!” Roger said. The two shook hands.
D.H. Valdez teaches Social Studies at his former high school. He holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Washington. He and his wife Holly grew up together in Seattle and continue to live in the city. They are avid sports fans and desperately await the return of the Sonics. Valdez has previously been published in Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Citron Review.