THURSDAY: Controlled Burn


Copyright is held by the author.

I TRAIL my fingertips along the wall, feeling the irregularities in the plaster surface, the paint slippery beneath my hand. The red can is heavy and bounces against my knee, the contents sloshing as I walk. Even under the decay, this room is familiar to me.

I stop and gaze at the dusty bed – the stained mattress has been gnawed by vermin. The iron headboard is covered in bird shit, streaks of white run down the wall behind it. Fitting.

Through the cracked window pane, I can see the familiar driveway. I imagine the old green T-bird my mother drove – hear the ghostly grumble of the engine and the crunching of the wheels on gravel that signalled the end to the torture I endured. I look back at the bed, remembering the relief that sound used to evoke. I realize I’m holding my breath. Forcing myself to relax, I inhale deeply, pulling in as much of the dusty warm air as my lungs can hold.

Turning, my foot hits a spray can and it spins the can under the bed. I listen to it for a moment then shrug: no point in retrieving it. I set the jug down and unscrew the lid, red paint from my fingertips smudging the yellow plastic spout. The fumes waft up and my eyes water involuntarily. No tears though: after 43 years of untangling the emotional trauma, I am ready to take control of this.

I heft the gas can and pour the gasoline onto the mattress. It soaks in quickly and runs through to the floor forming a pool. Hmm. Not what I had planned but it doesn’t really matter. Once the can is empty, I throw it onto the bed and walk back to the door. I pull the package of wooden matches from my jacket pocket, retrieve one match and considered the small stick in my hand. Such a simple tool for such an important job.

I strike the match and toss it onto the bed. The whole mattress seems to ignite at once, smoke curling to the ceiling. The roar of the fire is my howl of anger finally being released.

Back in the hall I survey the rest of my handiwork. Red paint drips down the faded wallpaper, my anger poured out on the walls of this cage. I hear a muffled pop as the spray can in the bedroom explodes. It’s time to go.

I walk down the creaky wooden steps, noticing my footprints in the dust. Soon the house and all its memories will be gone. I exit the front door, wave to the fire truck parked in the field. Pulling my keys from my pocket, I climb into my big black truck and watch as the fire eats its way through the old wooden roof.


  1. Really gripping and impossible to stop reading.
    But I didn’t get why the fire truck was parked in a nearby field. A bit too subtle, that, for me.

  2. Such vivid discription, beautiful and tragic at the same time. I liked the fire truck outside, it changes the moment from angry arson to cleansing.

  3. But why was it there? That threw me. What credible chain of events could have brought it there?

  4. Powerful!
    If every victim had this opportunity … controlled burn with fire department co-operation.

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