Wonder 26

Charlie

2601

Minha mãe is a hero. I always knew it. Today, due to my idiocy, I put that knowledge to the test. It started with the best intentions: my club buddies were over, we were hungry after yoga practice, and I volunteered to scramble up some eggs for us.

Tia Berry said that morning that she heard snapping sounds coming from the stove when she was heating water for tea. We thought it was the kettle expanding.

But as I was cooking, there was a loud pop under the front burner, and then the stove burst into flame.

I grabbed the fire extinguisher before my mind even registered what was happening, and then next thing I knew, there was Mãe at my side, fighting the fire with me.

2602

Mãe!” I yelled. “Go outside! Take Berry with you! Get safe!”

“We got this, Charlie,” she said.

Yuki ran in screaming. “I smelled smoke!”

“Get outside, Yuki!” I shouted. “Take my tia with you!”

2603

Time did that weird thing where it stops and silence wraps itself around everything. I loved it. I hated the fire, and I felt like such an idiot for having started it, but I loved that silent envelope. I felt like I was moving through clarity–not a thought, just total awareness, like I could step through the frozen moment.

2604

“You’re awesome, Mãe,” I said when the fire was finally out.

“We did it, spud,” she said. “Not bad.”

2605

She got that wistful look she gets when she watches me.

“I ever tell you about the first fire I fought?”

She hadn’t.

“It was my second trimester,” she said. “I was hungry all the time. And sick all the time, but you don’t want to hear about that.”

She told me about how the stove had burst into flames when she was scrambling up some eggs for breakfast. She’d put out the fire then, too.

“I liked it,” she said, “if you want to know the truth. I liked the power of quenching the flames. I liked knowing I could keep you safe.”

“That’s how I feel now,” I said. “I’d do anything, Mãe.”

“Me, too,” she said.

2606

The kitchen was a mess–flakes of ash everywhere, the stove emitting the stench of burnt plastic and electrical wires.

I cleaned it up. If I really would do anything, then that means doing the gross work, too. Heck, minha mãe had just put out a kitchen fire. She shouldn’t have to clean up the kitchen, too.

2607

I realized I was starving once the biggest part of the mess was cleaned up. We had to wait for the new stove to be delivered, and, besides, I really didn’t feel like cooking with heat. I made a salad.

2608

Later, after Hugo and Yuki left, when Mãe and Tia Berry were sleeping, I did some reps out back. It’s a weird feeling I had. Can a person feel both tender and strong?

I felt vulnerable because I realized how quickly anything could go wrong. I felt like a baby because minha mãe had rushed to save me. I realized she’d always do that–as long as she lived. No matter how big, how strong I am, I’ll always be o bebê da minha mãe.

At the same time, I felt powerful. I’d protected her. I’d protected our house. I’d found this strength and courage inside of me. I’d stepped into that mighty tunnel of silence, and I’d found something in me I never knew I had.

I don’t know how this works: How does it work that I can be both a baby and a man at the same time?

2609

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