The eight year old boy climbed the ladder to the hayloft. His head rose above the square hole of the wood floor and his eyes slowly scanned the too quiet space filled with hay up to the small square of sun streaming in from the tiny front window. He had never been there before by himself as he was the only grandchild spending the week at his grandparents farm. The boy climbed towards the summit of hay, to the pane-less window and looking out, saw the broad flat lot ending at the farm house backyard. The breeze coming through the window cooled his forehead. He turned to his sole purpose for coming; to jump out and away from the steep incline to land in a violent spray of dust and hay below. A box of matches caught his eye, laying in the square the sunlight, as a tempting display. Even to the boy the matches looked out of place, almost as though someone had placed them there. The boy slid the matches in his front jeans pocket and jumped. The exhilaration of the momentary suspension in air came and left just as fast. The boy stepped down the ladder and went to the side of the barn and with his back to the farm house, started striking the matches, mesmerized by the sudden bright burning of sulphur and then the slow burning of the remaining wood. He heard his grandfather's voice from behind him and turned. His grandfather was leaning against the fence facing the barn and the boy.
"I was just striking these matches." He gave his grandfather the box of matches.
"Where did you get those matches?" His grandfather's face and voice was neutral.
"I found 'em in the hay loft" The boy felt a small sense of redemption for telling the truth.
"Where in the hay loft?"
"Right next to the window, up top." Even the boy thought his story, even though true, sounded made up.
"On top of the hay? Just laying there?"
The grandfather went in the house and open the cabinet door in the bathroom, next to the sink, where he kept his cartons of Lucky Strikes and other treasures out of reach of smaller hands and eyes. The boy knew this is where he kept a deringer too; which he had let him hold once. He seemed to compare the box of wooden matches to the box the boy had found, then looked into space, his face unreadable.
"It's dangerous to play with matches. You can strike all the matches you want to as long as I'm around. okay?"
There are memories we have as children that are tenuous and fleeting and there are the memories that stick with you with sustained clarity. I've often thought that maybe that box of matches was placed there by someone or maybe just fell out of someone's pocket. Either way, a barn full of dry hay on a summer day would have burned down quickly and completely, at a considerable loss to my grandfather.
Four years later Freddy Wyatt and I were playing with wooden matches in my backyard and caught the dry bermuda grass on fire which spread dangerously close to the dry cornfield behind our subdivision. We put it out just in time. I guess I didn't take my grandfather's warning to heart. I know it scared the crap out of Freddy and I. I don't play with matches anymore.