Before the Bonfire

Softly, go softly, Deana whispered to herself. Swiveling awkwardly she hoisted the overladen tote bag up over her shoulder. Jimmy was right, she had gotten too fat. Trying to still the thumping of her heart, she almost tip-toed into the hallway. Silly…there was no one to hear.

The night pressed around her as she stepped down each groaning stair to the main level. All the steps creaked, just as the seams of the out-of-date wallpaper all curled a little. In Deana’s memory, the wallpaper was new and the staircase was covered with thick wine-colored carpet. And she was still young and Ray was not dead.

Deana left the lights off and peered out the windows. It was 4 a.m. but you never knew if the Andersons would be quarreling, or the Nelson boy would be sneaking home. And what if Joel Diaz hadn’t brought that barky dog of his inside? Deana took another breath to calm herself. Really, no one would care or question, but she was not taking any chances.

This had to be done. Ray would approve – he had always lived a little on the wild side. She had been the goody-two-shoes, and look where it got her. A woman had to fend for herself after all. All the bills, from utilities to insurance were faithfully paid, but she couldn’t afford the updates and repairs the house was crying for. Deana straightened her glasses and stared outside for another moment or two, listening intently. No one was stirring, not even a mouse, she told herself. The mice in the cellar and walls were not scuttering about the place tonight. A good sign. Maybe they were like rats and had left this sinking ship.

Deana let herself out into the hot night air. No rain for weeks, so even her flowers had died. It was all of a piece – no life was left in this old shell of a house. She’d taken down the for sale sign months ago. Ray had told her she should sell up when he died, but no one wanted to buy a run-down place like this. A lifetime of happy family memories did not raise its value even a nickel. She had tried to explain to a real estate agent that this was a happy house, but the woman had pasted on a thin smile and made sure Deana was never around to meet the very few potential buyers. When a few more shingles blew off the roof, Jimmy had asked her again to come and live in the mother-in-law cottage behind his home in Los Angeles. She’d put him off for weeks before she finally agreed. Still, she didn’t want to show up a beggar for her son to support. All she had of value was this house.

Slipping into the side door of the garage, Deana added the tote to the several bags already in the trunk. Everyone knew she was going to drive down to visit her son first thing in the morning. This last bag contained her treasures – photos, letters, all the odds and ends that held her most precious memories.

With a sigh of relief, Deana returned to the house. Ray had explained how the old depression-era trick of wedging a penny into the out-dated fuse box to keep the circuits connected, would sooner or later start a fire. Deana smiled as she stacked the newspapers and ensured those greasy rags were much too close. Too excited to sleep, she sat in Ray’s chair and waited for morning. When the sun rose at last, she took her handful of pennies and jammed them into the circuits.

Then she took her purse and her car keys and headed down the road. She never looked back.



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