A Heap of Burning Bunny Rabbits
by Andreas Economakis
Are all children pyromaniacs? When my brothers and I were kids, man, you just couldn’t keep us away from fire. We pretty much torched everything in sight. If quick-dial had existed back then, I think my mom would have had the fire department on number 1 (for us) and the psychiatric ward on 2 (for her). I’m not sure why we were so attracted to flames. From hurling homemade napalm on walls to tossing aerosol cans into fires to setting random garbage piles on fire, we were the holy inferno of our entire Athenian neighborhood.
I must have been 6 or 7 years old when my two older brothers dragged an old foam mattress out of the basement and placed it under the big pine tree in our back yard. My brothers were having an argument about whether the petrol-based mattress would catch fire right away when a match was put to it. This was an ongoing family debate back then, whether or not petrol catches fire like gasoline. Well… hmmm… the mattress not only caught fire, it virtually exploded in our faces, the spectacle scattering us in a terror-induced glee. Huge flames licked upwards through the black smoke and a moment later the tree caught fire. Luckily, the neighbor was on to us and rushed in with his hose, extinguishing the fire. I think he also called the police.
I seem to remember the police stopping by our house regularly, be it for pellet gun violations or more often than not because we’d set someone’s garden or whatever on fire. Most of the time we got away with the mischief. We were very good at bolting when the shit hit the fan, or at least covering up or extinguishing our tracks before someone paid notice. One thing is for sure: we were the masters of raising all kinds of hell. At least my brothers were. Did my cherubic young age absolve me of all the mayhem we created? I guess I’ll find out in my next life.
One afternoon I was awakened from my innocent afternoon nap by my frantic brothers. Something catastrophic had just happened and they needed my help instantly. Bleary-eyed and struggling to put a skinny leg through my small shorts, I was hustled down into my dad’s study, heart pounding. This place was strictly off limits to us kids. My dad was no fool; he knew he lived with three pint-sized terrorists. The study was a kid-free zone. Or was it? Seems that my brothers had put their siesta hour to good use, sneaking into the study to mess around. My dad kept a huge, industrial fire extinguisher in the little kitchen by his study. I’m not quite sure where he got this thing. Anyway, my two brothers, permanently fighting since childbirth like Cain and Able, got in to some sort of epic brawl in the study. My oldest brother, always a believer in total, absolute, cataclysmic, terminal retaliation, rushed into the small kitchen. He emerged struggling, pulling the huge extinguisher, which was as tall as he was. Like Rambo with a flame-thrower, he opened the valve, and blasted the shit out of his cowering younger sibling.
Shocked by the intensity of his firepower, my eldest brother tried to shut off the valve. He twisted and twisted. Nothing. The jet of powder continued at full force, reducing my other brother into a pathetic, coughing snowman. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I entered the study. There was a half-meter of white, sudsy powder on the floor and absolutely everything was coated in white dust. It looked like Christmas. I was snapped out of my reverie by my sweating, panicky brothers. “We’ve got to clean it up before daddy gets home!” they blurted out, almost in unison. Before I knew it, I was shoveling white powder out the small window in the kitchen while the two of them filled bags and garbage cans and dragged them out to the back yard. It was only a matter of time before the entire back yard was coated in white powder as well, our German shepherd padding about the snowy landscape like he was walking on needles, a perplexed look on his face.
Legs coated to the knees in white suds, I shoveled and shoveled, but the powder just seemed to multiply. Pretty soon, all three of us were exhausted. We realized that this would take much longer than expected. Plan B. My middle brother, ever the diplomatic one, suggested that we distract our father when he arrived home. Perhaps he would not go into his study and we could continue the next day. Good plan! (How did I get dragged into this mess?) Well, the old man finally did show up from work and, miraculously, we managed to whisk him away from the door of his study, all three of us begging to be taken to dinner with mom that night. Luckily my mom had remained oblivious to the whole affair, sleeping through the whole thing. The plan was working. My brothers and I behaved like little adorable angels that night, hoping our parents wouldn’t notice that all three of us were wearing sneakers that were dusted white.
In the end, we almost got away with it. Much to our misfortune, our dad decided to visit his white study in the middle of the night while my guilty brothers and I slept. I remember all hell breaking loose and my dad’s dusty white suede shoes leaving angry white footprints around the house.
“At least we didn’t burn the house this time,” I remember thinking to myself, recollecting the several times we had burned or almost burned our house down. I think it was my oldest brother who had placed a large pile of firecrackers and candles on the living room carpet and set it ablaze back when we lived in Lausanne. I was only a toddler then, but I somehow recall the mayhem and smoke and hasty departure. By comparison, the fire extinguisher tragedy was pretty minor and definitely in the right direction. Isn’t it better to extinguish a house than to set it alight? I wondered if my parents saw it that way…. Indeed, we always kept extinguishers around on account of the many fires that seemed to light up our lives. My dad’s Titanic-sized extinguisher was indicative of the sort of fires he expected from his sons.
Well, like I said, we had a lot of fire extinguishers laying around when I was a kid. But not always. The summer after the fire extinguisher incident, my brothers and I found ourselves down in our house in the Peloponnese. As always, total anarchy ruled here. If things were relaxed in Athens, here we had virtually unadulterated free reign as my dad was generally absent in Athens and my mom was too busy drinking or avoiding us. I guess you can call it anarchy, though my eldest brother was the leader of the anarchist group, a group which sought to create as much mayhem and damage as possible. Our exploits with shotguns and pellet guns and firecrackers and bullhorns and nicked beers are legendary in the village. I think that the local villagers actually feared us. As for us, we were having a ball. It was kind of like Fear and Loathing meets Apocalypse Now, only in Greece and with plenty of goats and donkeys and barefoot Greek kids as observers.
I think our incendiary ways must have whooped our dog into quite a state of frenzy because one morning we found all the chickens and bunny rabbits that my mom kept in the old hutch, slaughtered. The German shepherd must have entered the hutch at night and spread around a little of that holy terror he was so accustomed to seeing every day from his three little masters. It was quite a sight, bunny and chicken carcasses strewn across the blood-soaked dirt, feathers everywhere, blood and guts stuck on the chicken wire fence. Botis, the property caretaker, was convinced it our German hound had committed the grievous slaughter (he had fought the Nazis during World War Two and had a deep-rooted distrust of all things Deutsch). Not helping his case, the pooch was sleeping the sleep of the century in the living room, totally content and full and with a bloody chicken feather stuck to his tail.
We gathered the carcasses into two piles. Bunny rabbits on the left, chickens on the right. I think it was my more sensitive middle brother who proposed that we create funeral pyres for the dead animals. He must have read about them in National Geographic. Always eager to oblige with fire ideas, the eldest one ran off and returned with a can of some sort of liquid. He doused the rabbits and produced a box of matches. The old debate ensued as to whether petrol catches fire when a match is put to it. I think I sided with my eldest brother, having recalled that petrol takes a while light up, compared to gasoline. The mattress hadn’t really convinced me as it was made of rubber.
Anyway, the argument raged on and pretty soon I was selected to solve the dispute. I was handed the matches and pushed toward the mountain of dead, bloody rabbits. I hesitated, the eyes of the little dead ones throwing me glassy, angry looks. It was intense, looking into all those dead little faces. I kneeled down and pulled a match out. I thought again about the petrol and decided that, mattress aside, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t catch fire easily. Reassured by my memory, I struck the match and thrust my hand into the heap of dead rabbits. An explosion ensued.
The rest is kind of a psychedelic blur. My eyes and skin stinging, I was hustled off by my brothers and Botis. I remember the heap of bunny rabbits burning and crackling as I was hauled down to the house. Before I knew it I was stuffed into a bathtub. One brother turned on the cold water while the other one ran in a panic to find my mother, who must have been down at the beach sleeping off the night before. I touched my face and my eyelashes and eyebrows crumbled off. I smelled of burnt hair. Indeed, even the hair on my head crumbled to my touch. I sat all flash-charred in the bathtub, crying my eyes out as our agitated German shepherd barked and yelped up a storm by the bathroom door. Botis, a mountain of man, someone who was not afraid of anything (I had once seen him chop off the head of a huge snake with a shovel, holding the snake down with his bare foot), reappeared, trembling and flustered from anxiety. He was clutching a bottle of olive oil. He uncorked it and started to pour it all over me. I started screaming. My god, they were planning to cook me up for dinner! Pretty soon I was calmed by Botis, who reassured me that I wasn’t on the menu that night.
As the heap of burning bunny rabbits crackled and sizzled outside, Botis explained that olive oil would soothe my skin. Well, the old village remedy didn’t exactly work. What happened instead, and this I was told after I woke up in the hospital the next day, is that the olive oil clogged my skin pores and my temperature shot up. Charred and overheated as I already was, my clogged pores sent me over the edge and I passed out from fever.
I awoke to presents and candy at the hospital the next day, feeling much better. My brothers and mother were beside me. Luckily, I was only flash burned and there was no permanent damage. My eyelashes and eyebrows and hair would grow back. On the way back home, my brothers continued their argument about petrol. I starred at them without my eyebrows, batting my eyelash-less eyelids and wondering if they were as dumb as they seemed. I finally intervened, mentioning that I was living proof that petrol catches fire like gasoline. “Uhmm no, not really…” my eldest brother told me. “I guess I made a mistake. The stuff we poured on the rabbits was gasoline. I thought it was petrol…”
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.