The boy who set his house on fire…
“You know the story of Jacoby, right?”
“Jacoby, who’s that? Naw, I don’t know that one.”
Jacoby Sanders, young & dumb. That’s what the neighbors called him. Said he was slower than molasses, denser than baking soda, you know,
That Sorta Stuff.
“What happened? What about Jacoby?”
“He set his house afire, playing with the matches. Locked his Mama’n’Em in the room. Word is, he heard them screaming and left them all there. He doused the house in kerosene, struck two matches, threw them into the air, and ran outta the front door.”
Sarah Jane watched Hazel tell the story with such detail that she actually believed her older cousin’s every word. The two of them are sitting on the front porch in their Aunt May’s swing, drinking sweet tea, and talking about everything under the sun. Hazel wants to know more and Sarah Jane is eager to share.
“How’d he get outta the door without any fire sticking to him?”
“Hazel, ya too green, ya know? How I know? I wasn’t there. I said, “Word is.”
“But, I want to know if it is really true. How can we find out?”
“I bet you a head’s up penny Aunt May knows.”
“Yeah, Aunt May knows everything!”
The girls eyes lit up with want. If anyone knew what really happened, it was Aunt May. They hopped off of the swinging swing, launched into a speed the wind could not carry, and headed toward the front door. Hazel left it propped open for far too long.
“Close my door! I ain’t air conditionin’ the neighborhood!”
Aunt May was in rare form. She was standing over the stove smoothing the lid of a huge pot housing ham hocks and collard greens. She took a whiff of the scent, then turned the eye to low for the pot to simmer.
“Aunt May. You know about Jacoby Sanders?”
“The little boy from Crescent Row? Yeah, I know ‘bout’em. And, I guess you gon’ ask me next if it’s true. Well, it is. That baby set his house on fire while his Mama’N’Em slept. Little sister and little brother. 3. Twins.”
“Like Missy and Lacy?”
“Yes, twins. Like Missy and Lacy.”
The air in the house hushed. There was not a sound. Aunt May hung her head as she continued on with the story. The girls stood at her feet, now gaining the courage to kneel, they bent their legs, and sat down for the rest.
“Jacoby was never right in the head. The daddy up and left his mama when she was carryin’ him, beat her silly before he closed the door. A pregnant woman? Can you believe that? Sheriff Johnson searched for that boy for two weeks, couldn’t find him. Couldn’t go outta his jur-is-dic-tion. The mama, Shelly Mae, was too young for a young’un anyway, 16. Daddy was 23. It wasn’t right from the beginnin’. Anyway, the night Jacoby struck them two matches, she took some aspirin for her ailin’ head. The babies had a fever, gave them something too. They were sleeping pretty hard. Jacoby not knowin’, but knowin’, doused that house in kerosene, lit them matches, and hauled-ass outta the front door. It still gives me chills thinkin’ ‘bout it.”
Hazel, her eyes wider than the Grand Canyon, spoke first.
“Aunt May, what happened to Jacoby? Where did he go?”
“That’s the thing no one really knows. Some folks say he skipped town, took up with this gal called Hannah, got him a fancy car and all. Livin’ the life. Others say he’s slummin’ it over on Trellis Avenue. If he knows like I know, he’ll stay wherever he is. Folks still mad about that. Still mad.”
The rattling of pots could be heard in the living room. Aunt May was serious about her cooking. It was time to get back to it.
“That’s that. I can’t sit here and keep y’all company no mo. I’ve got a kitchen full of food waitin’ on me. Don’t wanna burn the house down.”
Sarah Jane and Hazel looked at each other with fear in their eyes, wondering why Aunt May chose those words. A clatter clattered and the girls shook, temporarily scared by the noise coming from the kitchen.
“She didn’t catch on to what she was saying, Hazel. That isn’t like Aunt May.”
Or is it?
*Previously published by The Weekly Knob on Medium.com, July 2016
*image courtesy of Courtesy of Modern Manager.