It is said by old, wise, mothers and fathers that a young, innocent child is more fearless than most men. Many doubt this, but in a way, it is true. They know nothing. They don’t know what to fear. They don’t know what to or what not to touch. They don’t know what is or what isn’t dangerous. Ergo, whats to be afraid of? But as they grow to toddlers, or even to teenagers; day-to-day experiences can bring fear that lasts us a lifetime, for fear and mistakes teaches much. One of these times, I remember as if it were yesterday.
The summer sun showed its rays that stretched down to the deep green grass that were decorated with pink, purple, and yellow flowers. Bees buzzed and crept flower to flower, living their normal basis life. Birds flew branch to branch singing their song as they do every morning and night. It was a normal day, a normal day that wouldn’t expect of what was to come.
The bird’s song, and the peaceful summer day was interrupted by the Mariachi music that came from my Tia Lola’s house. Cousins, second cousins, friends of cousins, family friends, were all gathered from my mother’s side, partying and celebrating. For what reason? None at all. Perhaps it was that it was still summer, or maybe because the cousins brought back such huge loads of food and beer, or maybe it was that my Abuelo’s horse won his first race, and he brought back a nice fat wallet. It didn’t matter to me, for I was too little to understand the reason for big family gatherings, yet I would never complain. There were cousins and kids the same age as me, and we would all band together. There were so many things we would do! Run, play, eat. Run, play, take off our shoes. Run, play, dance our hearts out. Run, play, tackle the older cousins and play with the moustaches of our older tios. Then we would run, play and eat again. But as a little toddler, I would get bored fairly quickly. So I exiled myself from the others, and I made my way to one of my favorite places, the stable and the paddock; where my Abuelo’s horse was. I would go there often to feed and pet him. The older relatives told me to never go near the stable alone; but everyone was in the big backyard partying, no one would notice me leave. Little did I know, that that would be the worst mistake I would make in my childhood.
As I made my way to the horse’s paddock, I uprooted wild onions, carrots, and turnips with my small grimy hands. As the soft grass faded into hard gravel, I could feel the sharp gravel pinching into my feet. With my hands filled to the brim of vegetables, I called out a greeting to the tall mammal. I didn’t know his name, but from what I remember, the words “big” and “brown” were often said around him. So that was what I called him. Big Brown. It fitted him well. His coat was the color of milk chocolate: that of a Hershey bar. His straight, damp mane was the same solid color of his coat, yet there was a jagged white mark that streaked down from below his ears down to his muzzle. His kind, hazel eyes flickered as he caught sight of the food that I was holding. I plopped them down in front of me, and plucked a single orange carrot and struck it through the fence. He looked so high and mighty, he tossed his short mane with his long and muscular neck and as he reached the other side of the fence, he then slowed his pace from a bouncy trot to a smooth walk. He used his long and velvety lips to grasp the end of the carrot, and then jerked it through the fence. Crunch. My tiny, stubby fingers stroked the edge of his nose. He snorted impatiently and rolled his eyes, demanding more treats. I squatted down and rummaged through the pile of goods. Onions. He loves onions. I looked up at him, the magnificent stallion was towering over me, arching his neck over the fence. He smacked his lips. Onions. He loves onions. With one hand I gripped the fence to maintain my balance and with the other I grasped a couple of onions. I started climbing the 7-foot fence. The stallion did soft nickers, encouraging me to move faster. As I finally reached the top. I swung my skinny leg over so the fence was between my legs. I stretched my right arm and greedily, the horse snatched it. Crunch. Crunch. Whinny. Crunch. I sat there awhile, stroking the place behind his ears. You could tell he loved it, for his eyes closed, his lower lip drooped, and his breathing slowed. It was a nice, quiet moment. But as silence is lovely, it all comes to an end.
When a dog is scared, they bark or growl, or make themselves look more superior. When a cat gets scared, they arch their backs or run. When a horse gets scared, it's pure hell. One second I was massaging his neck, and then, it was as if someone turned a switch. The animal reared back, and struck at the sky with its long legs. It let out a shrill shriek. When he did this I flew back, off the fence, and hit the ground, hard. I was clueless. What happened? What did I do? I looked up, to where the house was, I heard Big Brown pacing around the paddock behind me, I turned my neck, and out of the corner of my eye I could see a hard, golden glow and I could smell the wicked stench of smoke.
I’ve never seen such a tall fire in my life. I crawled until I was a certain distance from the paddock before I swirled around to see what was really happening. Fire. I couldn’t see it all at first for the panicked stallion was bucking and going wild; kicking up dirt and dust that covered my hair and my sight. I’ve never seen such a calm animal go as wild as he did. I tried calling out to him, but when I opened my mouth smoke enveloped around me; and it ravished my mouth dry. I coughed and winced in pain. My throat was sandpaper, every breath pierced my throat. Every breath I inhaled there was smoke, My thoughts were running, lost. I coughed. What should I do? I squeezed my eyes, scared of what monster lurked that was causing all this chaos. I sat up and gazed. I’ve never seen anything so eye-catching, yet so deadly.
The fire was a house down, a neighbor’s home. Or, at least it was a home. The fire had already swallowed it whole. The fire was tall beyond explanation, its multiple arms reaching out, grappling at the clouds, making the once-blue skies stained with dark gray. The tip of the flames were flecked white, down to a yellow, which faded to an orange, which glided to a blood-red color. I was in a daze, I couldn’t move. Perhaps it was the sight of it that scared me to be stone-still, or maybe because I was gaping at the awe of it. Who could ever know something that caused such destruction could be so striking? The fire was moving slowly, yet was consuming everything in its path. The green grass was now burnt black, birds took flight to the air, trying to escape, yet were still trapped by the breathe of the fire. On the ground, the fire’s flames were dancing, shifting left to right, it blazed through everything. Fruit-filled trees were now barren and dead. Bushes that were once homes for different animals were now twigs left to be stepped on.
I was snapped back into reality by the stallion who charged at the fence. Seconds before he hit it; he skidded to a stop and shrieked at me. He bucked; trying to get free out of his fenced prison. My eyes blinked and I stood up and jogged to the lock. It was a wooden stick intercrossed so it formed an “x”. I had to lift it and swing it over to the right. As I was attempting to do this, the horse hung his neck over the fence and anxiously, with his lips, he nibbled and played with my dark curly hair, as if trying to calm me, yet with his rushed breathing he urged me to hurry. My skinny arms weren’t strong enough though. I grunted in effort, but to no avail I couldn’t do it. I glanced up beyond the horse’s paddock, and to the field beyond where the fire’s blaze was brewing. It was closer than a few minutes ago. I glanced back at the horse. His soft brown coat was cluttered with clumps of grass and dirt. Twigs were entwined in his mane and gunk surrounded his eyes. His snow-white blaze was covered with dust. With a small hand I did the best I could to clear his eyesight, and scrubbed his white blaze. As the fire grew closer, my body was wearing. I coughed, harder this time. I heard the howling of the wind. Great. Just what a fire needed; wind. The smoke wouldn’t stop coming, and I wouldn’t stop coughing. The horse nudged my arm and I looked up to see his big, brown eyes. He blinked once. His lashes long and thick. He rubbed his muzzle on my face and nudged me backwards; as if to tell me to leave. I stayed put. The stallion eyed me and grunted and banged his body against the weak fence. He then went ballistic. He spun in circles, as if to make his own dust hurricane. It was all then clouded. Dust, smoke into one, I couldn’t see anything. Frightened, I scrambled down the fence, I took missteps, and eventually I stumbled. I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran. The heated gravel stung and bit at my barefeet, which only made me run faster. I tried running towards the direction of the house. Or what I thought was the direction towards the house. I couldn’t tell.
I ran with my eyes closed shut, for whenever I tried to open them, the smoke would breathe upon me, and would sting my eyes till they cried. I attempted to call out for my mother, father, or anyone. Yet the harsh wind would suck my mouth dry, and my throat was sore. I remember my hands touching the side of the house, and I remember banging against it with my tiny fists. Even though I knew there was no chance that they would hear me, I didn’t stop. I felt my tears coming down in rivers. I sat down and leaned my back against the house, I knew the door was locked from earlier, and I couldn’t move because I lost control in my legs. I smelt the smoke, felt the burn and unjustifying heat, saw the destruction, but as my narrowed eyes saw the fire creeping closer and closer, all I can hear was my heartbeat going faster and faster. I coughed once more. I felt my vision fade. I felt everything fade. I heard the worried whinnies of the stallion who was pacing around the pen. If only I was able to get that lock. He would be free. Unharmed. Yet I was free, and I still couldn’t get away. I looked to my side, and I found my pile of treats I had for him. Onions. He loves onions. I wavered a small smile, and fear took a grip at me as I turned and saw the blaze’s shadow against the house. My scream died in my throat. It was close. My hair was soaked with sweat. My short breaths came slower. I felt the heat wrap around me and it held me close. My eyes gave one last glance up to the dancing flames, which flickered playfully, as if it were teasing me. Then with a tired breathe, my head swung forward, and everything went black.
I remember the slithering heat, the dangerous flames and my sore feet. I remember the vegetables I picked for the stallion, and climbing the fence. I remember falling off of the fence, twice. I remember me running blind through the sea of smoke. I remember the cries of the troubled stallion that was bolting around his paddock. I remember being scared for my life and crying. I remember going unconscious. I remember the pain. What I don’t remember, is how I got into the house, safe and sound. Or how the fire was stopped. All I remember was that I woke up on my Tia's couch. The morning sun was shining through the window. My mother was on the couch across from me. I was confused. It was one of those moments where you don’t know whether it's real or not. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. They were sensitive, and I glanced downward at my feet. My bare feet. They were littered with tiny cuts and bruises, same with my legs. I felt dirt in my hair, and my throat was still sore. It really happened.
As if she was reading my mind, my mother spoke and answered my questions to me in Spanish, “Marco found you as he was bringing the horse out. He said you were knocked out, against the house, barely breathing, holding this.” With a confused expression, she placed an onion next to me. “I have to say, I thought you were in the upper rooms sleeping...I didn’t really look for you, there were too many people stuffed into the house. I didn’t realize you were missing until the fire was gone.” How does a mother forget her child? I asked her how the fire was stopped, and she said she didn’t know. What she did tell me was that the fire didn’t even touch a hint of my Tia’s property. A grateful thing that was.
Still to this day I’m scared of fires, its image forever burned in my mind. On my 7th birthday, which was only a few weeks after this incident, my cousin Marco allowed me to ride the tall racehorse. It was only then when I learned that his name was Lucero. How coincidental this was, for the name Lucero can go for many definitions, one of them being, a Fire’s Blaze.