Copyright is held by the author.
LIZ WAS enjoying the comfortable warmth of slight inebriation, that swimmy state of mind in which everything is seemingly possible, and harsh realities are softened, their edges blurred. She gazed over at her husband Luke, and vowed to do something nice for him for agreeing to be the designated driver. She admired his profile, as far as the fading light permitted. It was becoming very dark, and there were no streetlights on this country road, their familiar road home. She could see by the sporadic headlights of oncoming cars that his gaze was fixed ahead, his focus placed diligently on the road before them. It was a quiet drive, with nothing but a few bumps in the road to interrupt Liz’s reverie. Their friends Ian and Marcy sat silently in the backseat. Liz wondered if Marcy was feeling as good as she was right now. They had split a few bottles of wine at the restaurant and got to talking about their old college days. Liz smiled to herself and took a moment to appreciate how nice it is to have the kind of friendship that requires no small talk. Absolute comfort in absolute silence. The road lead them closer and closer to home, the soft hum of the car’s engine lulling its passengers to sleep.
Liz’s eyes were just starting to droop when she heard Luke speak her name in a whisper. “Liz, have I gone too far? I think we might’ve passed the house.”
“Hm?” Liz mumbled, unconcerned. “I thought you were supposed to be the sober one,” she teased, knowing full well that her husband had enjoyed nothing more than water with his meal at the restaurant. As Luke pulled the car over, she roused herself out of her semiconscious state and sat up. She looked around. It was difficult to make out her surroundings, although she knew they must be close to their old farmhouse. She squinted at the black trees that surrounded the road, searching for a familiar landmark. Luke seemed distressed. She was suddenly regretting the wine.
“What’s the matter, Luke? A flat?” Ian called from the backseat. Liz heard his seatbelt unbuckle. He was always ready to help.
“No, no, I…I think I must’ve daydreamed and driven right past the driveway,” Luke replied, with a nervous chuckle. He was noticeably flustered. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me.”
Liz ordered herself to relax. The trees on either side were dense. They must have simply driven past the clearing where the silhouette of their house could be seen against the twilight sky. “It’s okay, honey,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It happens.”
Marcy giggled in the backseat. She was definitely feeling the wine.
Luke turned the car around on the old dusty road and began doubling back. A short while later, the trees began to thin out, and Liz, who was now forcing herself to remain wide-eyed and focused in case she was needed, noticed the mailbox of their closest neighbours, and felt relieved. “Here we are honey, there’s the Watsons’ mailbox,” she reassured him, and added, laughingly, “I can’t imagine how you…”
“I don’t see the house,” Luke interjected.
It took Liz a minute to process this. “What do you mean, you don’t…”
“I don’t see the house,” he repeated, tersely.
He made the left turn into their long driveway, and Liz squinted through the darkness. The last remaining light was quickly fading but, surely, they should still be able to see their old farmhouse. Squint as she might, all she could detect was night sky. She was definitely regretting the wine.
Luke continued forward. The silence in the car was now laced with tension.
“Maybe this isn’t your driveway,” said Marcy.
Liz was about to agree that this could be possible, when she noticed their old woodshed come into view. “No, this is it, all right.”
On they drove, and sure enough, the old and now unused silo, which shared the landscape with their home, came into view. And still no house. Impossible. The silo and the house were not that far apart. The situation was becoming scary, and she wished for the return of her usual faculties. Where is the bloody house?!
“The house is gone!” Luke exclaimed.
“What?!” came Ian and Marcy’s simultaneous cries from the backseat.
They were now reaching the end of the drive, and that was when the smell of a dwindling campfire reached Liz’s nose. This was not a peculiar smell for this area, but…
Then she saw it. The wreckage. The remains of the house. A mere three feet tall, the stone base of the house was all that remained; its wooden exterior was reduced to a smoldering pile. Wisps of smoke escaped the charred wreckage. Paralyzed with shock, Liz sat there, motionless, unable to process this unexpected scene.
From the backseat, Ian began to speak, but she could make no sense of his words. Her hand moved tentatively over to Luke’s arm, but she was incapable of looking away from the remains of her worldly possessions. What could have possibly started the fire? They had made no fire that night, and they weren’t smokers. The electrical was all up to date, and she had a habit of unplugging appliances that were not in use to conserve energy. How could this have happened? How could it have all burned up so fast?
Suddenly, a figure was seen walking towards them from out of the darkness. Liz gasped and clutched her husband’s arm in fear. Could it have been arson? The figure stood in front of their headlights to make his appearance known, and then another followed behind. They wore uniforms and grim expressions. Liz’s fear lessened, but her grip did not. These were two police officers, who were no doubt waiting for the homeowners to return. Liz was compelled to move when she felt Luke reaching over to unbuckle his seatbelt. He said nothing as he opened the car door and stepped out.
Liz glanced back at her friends, who sat wide-eyed, their mouths agape. “Liz..,” whispered Marcy. Liz could detect the tears in her friend’s eyes. Coming to her senses, her nerves snapping her back to full sobriety, Liz stepped out of the car. Her senses were overwhelmed with the smell of smoke, the feeling of loss, and the emptiness of space before her. She stood by Luke and tried to listen to what the officers were telling them. Something about how they had responded to neighbours’ reports of a fire, but were unable to salvage anything from the blaze.
As though hypnotized, Liz felt her body moving towards the blackened debris of her home.
“Ma’am,” called one of the officers, “we’d advise you to stay back from the building.”
Building. What building? There’s nothing left! Liz began to cry silent tears, managing to control the sobs she felt developing in her chest. The furniture, clothes… all the photographs and family treasures. Would she be able to salvage her jewellery? Surely there must be something left? They had finally finished paying off that damn TV! And what would this mean for their insurance? As her head began to spin with thoughts of all she’d lost, she overheard the officers asking Luke in lowered, trepidatious voices, if they had left anyone at home that night.
In a flash, Liz was struck with the gravity of their inquiry. Were there any children left with babysitters or grandparents? No, they had no children. Were there any pets? They had suffered the loss of their dog several months previously. No one had died tonight. She turned around and looked at Ian and Marcy, who were standing next to the car, giving their friends space to deal with the initial shock of what had happened, but standing by faithfully. They held each other as Ian stroked Marcy’s hair in consolation. Then Liz looked at her husband, standing stoically, dutifully, in front of the officers. Her heart gushed with love, her body was overcome with palpable relief. Her treasure was before her. She had not really lost anything. She walked over to Luke and put her arm around his waist, squeezing tightly. Her tears flowed, but whether from grief, shock, or relief, she no longer knew. She pressed her forehead against him as he enveloped her shoulders with his arm. She felt his chest rise and fall with a heavy sigh, and wished she could take away his sadness. She thought about what the minister had said on their wedding day, remembering his words of wisdom as she looked down at her wedding band: “The things you own, the cars you drive, and even the house you live in are nothing compared to what you have found in each other. This is your heart, this is your treasure.” After all, they had lost nothing that could not be replaced, and they would always have a home as long as they had each other, and loving friends to support them.