Spill Stories: Gentleman Burns, by Kevin Mosby


By Kevin Mosby

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Spill Stories

Spill Stories is a Terrain.org series that fuses the interactive climate justice story maps of the Climate Alliance Mapping Project with the creative writing of students and faculty at the University of Arizona to bring oil and gas pipeline spill data to life.
Each week Terrain.org will publish new writing coupled with a map. This is the ninth and final publication in the Spill Stories series.


The following narrative is faithful to the facts presented in the official reported narrative of Gas Distribution Spill Report, ID #19880188, though some creative license has been taken, and the tense has been changed. All text IN CAPS has been taken directly from the official report.

At some point it occurs to GENTLEMAN AT 105 JERSEY ST in Rochester, New York, not to use a gun, taut belt, cocktail of pills, high cliff, bridge, or skyscraper. He considers the alternatives too straightforward and too quiet. GENTLEMAN does not want blood nor vomit nor spilled entrails polluting neither the sea nor the sidewalk. Instead GENTLEMAN wants ash. And lots of it. He wants to leave the world not with a whimper, but a bang. He wants to erupt with his home and all his property. GENTLEMAN thinks, If I can’t have it, no one can. Not the TV nor the bicycle nor the guns nor the stack of adult videos he keeps hidden behind the surplus toilet paper in the broom closet.

In order to maximize his audience for this final performance, GENTLEMAN CALLS HIS GIRLFRIEND AT KODAK WHERE SHE WORKS AND SAYS HE IS GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE. Naturally, GIRLFRIEND CALLS 911. She hurries to GENTLEMAN’s house, as GENTLEMAN too is hurrying to amplify the imminent flames as best he can. First, GENTLEMAN REMOVES ONE INCH CAP FROM THE TEE IN THE BASEMENT WHICH IS AHEAD OF THE STOPCOCK AND THE SERVICE REGULATOR. Removing this cap, GENTLEMAN knows, will foul the air with noxious gases, thereby intensifying the flames. Next, he ensures that TWO ACETYLENE TANKS AND ONE OXYGEN TANK ARE IN THE HOUSE and LEAKING substantially enough to add further fuel to the fire.

At this point GENTLEMAN knows that the authorities are likely nearing, so he hurriedly POURS GASOLINE throughout the house, taking great care to make certain that each room is sufficiently splashed with the gas he’d picked up the day before from the Kwik Fill on the corner, after having had his penultimate meal at Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria, where he’d taken GIRLFRIEND on their first date five years ago, before all the demons had made a residence of his brain.

Having run out of gasoline to pour, GENTLEMAN realizes he has finished all the items on his to-do list, save the last (“light the match”). Although he briefly considers starting the fire right then and there, GENTLEMAN ultimately decides to wait until the authorities show up. He understands, of course, that this is a gamble. Doing so would allow the possibility of the authorities (1) to talk him out of lighting the match or (2) to seize him, thereby preventing him from completing his task. But this is a gamble GENTLEMAN decides he must take, because he very badly wants to witness for himself the horror in the eyes of his audience.

So GENTLEMAN sits down on the divan to wait. He briefly wonders if GIRLFRIEND had considered his call a bluff and had not in fact called the police. But just as he starts to get anxious with this thought, GENTLEMAN hears the sirens, so he gets up from the divan and stands by the door and unlocks it. Right when he hears POLICEMAN AND FIREMEN approach THE DOOR, GENTLEMAN swings it open and TELLS THEM TO GET BACK BECAUSE HE IS GOING TO BLOW UP THE HOUSE AND HE LIGHTS A MATCH.

At which time POLICEMAN AND FIREMEN do get back, not because they are heeding GENTLEMAN’s advice, but because they are seeking to save themselves from the flames that have — in what seems like milliseconds — engulfed GENTLEMAN and his lovely suburban home.

POLICEMAN radios for backup as FIREMEN run back to the truck to grab the hose. But, by the time they return, the flames have evidently already reached the gas-filled basement, because right then AN EXPLOSION occurs, WHICH DESTROYS THE HOUSE.

In the chaos of the proceeding hour, FIREMEN are unable to stop the flames before THE RESULTING FIRE DESTROYS THE TWO ADJACENT HOUSES as well. They did successfully put out the fire at GENTLEMAN’s house fairly quickly, though. It was put out even before GIRLFRIEND arrived from her job in Buffalo.

When GIRLFRIEND does finally show up, POLICEMAN tells her not to approach the house. POLICEMAN asks her to sit on the curb and gives her a blanket, which even in her distress she finds odd, given that the flames from the two neighbors’ homes are providing more than enough heat to keep her comfortable.


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Kevin MosbyKevin Mosby is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Arizona. He is the incoming managing editor of Sonora Review.

Header photo by GORBACHEVSERGEYFOTO, courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.