Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

The Fire Extinguisher Grenades


They found the first one at an estate sale, ruby red blown glass, full of sloshing liquid, its original wall mount intact. The woman told them it was a grenade, 1887. Or maybe it was 1908, she couldn’t be sure. They’re decorative, she said, made to match any décor—cobalt, emerald, ruby, amber, jewel tones on your wall, beautiful, functional. The point is to hang them near the fireplace and if the fire, god forbid, ever gets out of control, lift the grenade from its mount and throw it at the base of the flames. The delicate glass will shatter, release the liquid chemical inside and rob the fire of its oxygen.

They took the ruby grenade home and hung it above the couch. It looked strange by itself so they scoured six flea markets and found six more, all ruby red, with names like Hayward’s, Babcock, Little Giant, Comet. They hung them above the couch, a field of poppies against an ashy wall. They lit fires and they lit candles. They joked about which grenade to throw if it ever came to that. The round one was closest but the teardrop was big. The star label was prettiest but the plain bulb was stuck. They certainly were not going to throw their wine glasses.

If they had done their research, they would have discovered that the grenades were more décor than function, a sales gimmick, a cure-all health tonic for turn-of-the-century fear of combustion.

Had they asked someone who knew, they would have heard the words carbon tetrachloride. They would have heard about the clear sloshing liquid with the sweet, sweet smell. The way it vaporizes in less than a second, absorbs through the lungs and the skin, over half of it trapping itself, leaking into body fat until its victims appear drunk, woozy, dizzy, sleepy. The way they sleep while it attacks kidneys, disintegrates livers, eats away at brain mass and then waking up, if they do wake up, nauseous, blood vomit, desperate for breath.

They weren’t all filled with carbon tetrachloride, of course. The alternative was salt water. Some were filled with that. They couldn’t have known, though. The difference between the two.

They sat night after night on their couch, fire in the fireplace, candles on the mantle, the light from the TV reflected in the glass bulbs full of clear liquid, joking, talking, the grenades mounted above.