Balls of Fire

Balls of Fire

by Tony Noland


The scar tissue makes a little map of Australia over my heart, an island of wrinkled pink skin in an ocean of black hair. I've seen some of the guys at the gym, looking at it sidelong in the shower. I know the rumor is that it's a gunshot wound. I can't say I'm sorry to have that rep, especially as it's hard to figure a guy like me as a player. A guy like me? Nah, I never been shot. Not with a gun, I mean.

Still, the burn was pretty bad; if it hadn't been for all that sweat, my chest hair might have caught on fire. Then I wouldn’t be The Guy Who Maybe Got Shot In The Chest Once, I'd just be The Guy With Only One Nipple. And for what? It wasn't even like I ever got anything out of all of that. Out of Marie. You know how people say, "oh, we're just good friends", when what they really mean is "we hang out a lot because there's nobody better around at the moment"?

Well, Marie and I really were just good friends. Trouble with being friends with a woman, though, is that you don't want to hurt her feelings. If you're actually dating, you don't even think about it, you just say stuff in the heat of the moment.
When ALL the moments are hot, that's a lot of talking.

But you’re just friends, you think before you speak, am I right?

What I’m trying to say is, I should have said something, that’s all. As soon as she pointed that damned Roman candle at me, I should have said something.

You know those things are made in China, right? By schoolkids? Seriously, they put schoolkids to work with all that gunpowder and cardboard, making explosives for pennies so we can piss away our dollars with the crackles and flashes. They use the wages to buy books and pencils and stuff.

The thing is though - and this is nothing against Chinese kids, just kids in general - if you know one thing about kids, it's that they sometimes screw up. If the label says it's a ten-ball Roman candle, that doesn't mean it's a ten-ball Roman candle. It means it's maybe a nine or eleven ball Roman candle. That's nothing to get upset about, just something to realize.

So at the Fourth of July barbeque at her Mom and Dad's house, when Marie turned and made a joke about pointing the Roman candle at me, I froze. She had her arm outstretched like it was a magic wand or something; the end f it was only maybe a foot away from me, and it was still smoking. I couldn't very well have done a duck-and-cover, not with a plate of ribs in one hand, two beers in the other. You would have froze too and you know it.

After I told her to put it down, her Mom sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, and her Dad cleared his throat in that I'm-going-to-make-a-speech way like he always did. I could see Marie get mad; just as she was saying that it was perfectly safe because she'd counted ten fireballs, number eleven shot out and hit me in the chest.

Like I said, lucky for me it was a hot day. It burned through my shirt and drilled into me. For whatever reason, I didn't drop the plate or the bottles, just hopped around, trying the bat it out with my elbows. It's funny... you always think you'll be cool in a crisis, but there's something about pain like that, just makes you an idiot.

After I got out of the hospital, I never saw Marie again. She sent a letter apologizing, an old fashioned, real paper letter. She never called, though. Maybe she was embarrassed. I was pretty mad, so I didn't call her, either. After a few weeks, I was able to get around without the skin graft killing me with every move. What with one thing and another, with the way things worked out and all, she and I, we just never met up after that.

So what I’m trying to say is, you boys just gotta be careful with those things, OK? Your mom’s already pissed off at me for giving you the fireworks in the first place, I don’t need a trip to the emergency room on top of it. Hang on, though, before you go off and light those things, get your Uncle Tony another beer, huh?


This piece was written for #SpokenSunday in celebration of Independence Day, and all the fools like me who love fireworks.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I really enjoyed this. And wow---what a difference it makes to "hear" it! I loved it. I forgot how much I enjoyed listening to a good story.



  2. Wow... Stupendous reading aside, this was one of the best things I've read all week, Tony.

  3. This is such fun. Great reading (you became someone else!) And I kind of wish Marie had called.

  4. The first paragraph is a grand tease for the story, and his voice is funny as heck. The voice, that is, that arises from the text - your reading augments it. Thanks for sharing, Tony.

  5. Love this story, Tony. Like Ant said, one of the best of the week.

    And your reading of it is just superb. *Who is that masked man?*

    Everything about it is simply great.

  6. Wow, Tony, I LOVED your reading! Superb! Happy 4th man, but please, be careful tonight, OK?

    (word verification: "yaras" - that's eerily close to: yerass.)

  7. Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! I'm glad you liked this reading; the voice here was very specific in my mind as I wrote it, and being able to communicate that more exactly is kind of nice.

    And John Wiswell, having you say that something is funny as heck... well, shoot, that just makes my whole weekend!

  8. I love it. Its great to hear a story being told - to hear the words the writer feels are important emphasised.

  9. That was amazing! I read it through myself and didn't realize (doh!) that you had taped it - so then I heard you tell it, and OMG, your voice was hilarious and PERFECT! So, do you always talk this way, Tony? Or was this a perfectly accented bit of acting?

  10. Annie & Cathy, I'm glad you liked it and got a laugh out of it. No, I don't always talk that way; it was just an assumed accent. I tweeted this link, but to hear an example of how I usually sound, listen to my reading of "Ode to the Semicolon"

  11. Five minutes later and I'm still laughing. Listening to you read this was FANTASTIC. Uncle Tony, I'll bring you a beer anytime!

  12. Loved your reading voice. This was a cute telling that made the funny story even funnier!

  13. Well done. I sure hope this wasn't autobiographical. That thought hurts too much!

  14. Great storytelling voice, Tony. This was funny. Based on the title I thought some other part of the body might've been in flames. Enjoyed it. : D

  15. This. is. great.

    The read it and then listened to it... it's great Tony. The story is well written and you telling it was just perfect.

    Jim Bronyaur <-- my #fridayflash this week!


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