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  • It was a normal day. Until I got out to my car and it wouldn't turn over. "And so it begins," I said outloud to no one. Already running late for work, I went back in the house and roused Billy. Having spent the past week out of town to attend my father's funeral, my old car had been idle and wasn't ready to perform.

    The work day passed quickly - too busy for Internet surfing or daydreaming. I had to contend with a week's worth of paperwork . A backlog on my desk, I plunged in. When quitting time rolled around, I was satisfied with the amount of work I had accomplished and was looking forward to decompressing with a long bath and a good book. I called Billy to remind him to fetch me, and he arrived out in front of my office in short order, the beauty of working in a small town. Had it not been so cold and my dress shoes so tight, I might have walked.

    Even I, a person who fabricates storylines based on the things I see from my window, could not have guessed that a routine stop at the convenience store for a jug of green tea would implicate me in an arson.

    Coming out of the store, I saw that a woman was standing next to the car talking to Billy. I recognized her. She had stopped by my office once, many months ago, dragging along her sweet old lady landlord. Once had been enough. Christine had impressed me then as a woman who had become unhinged. The town I live in is full of characters, and I added Christine to the list. I remember being concerned for the old lady. Christine talked fast, she itched, and I wondered if she was a crank addict - I knew more than one in town. She cut the old lady off when she began speaking and seemed to generally boss her around. The old woman looked pained and I sympathized.

    Hiya Kim, she said to me. My name is not Kim but I just waved. It seemed that she thought she knew Bill and he, with a look on his face like someone who is smelling dirty feet, vaguely remembered her. I hopped into the passenger side of the car. Christine then asked us for a ride. Billy's eyes said no - but he didn't answer so I said sure. In a small town, everywhere is close by. I fight the urge to be judgemental and believe in helping my fellow man. It was then that crazy Christine, thin and bony with so many sharp angles that she looked like a skeleton or a bird of prey, reached for the red gas can on the curb. Billy had cleared enough room for her in the back seat of his car, and when he saw the gas can, he really gave me a look. I sort of shrugged and we were off.

    The short drive, about six blocks or so, was filled with Christine chattering away about how her landlady was overcharging her for rent. How the sweet old woman I met was involved in extortion of the worst kind - trying to force her to pay an exorbitant electric bill that was not her responsibility. How she had to find somewhere else to live. Even though it was a short ride, it was too long. We put crazy Christine and her gas can out in front of the building. She thanked us, saying that her car was just around the corner.

    Later that night, I was doing the dishes and the water began to run brown from the spigot. I asked Billy what he thought and he said that maybe there was a fire in town. We had heard sirens earlier - so he said he was going to take a drive. I heard the wind chimes on the gate, signaling his return. He walked into the room and I knew something was wrong - really wrong. His face was drained of color, like the underbelly of a fish. He told me that the old lady's house was on fire. I remember feeling like a chasm had opened up in the floor and I was about to fall through it. Billy said that crazy Christine had started the fire. He saw the police cuff her and take her away.

    That night I dreamt about fire. I don't remember much of my dream -only the colors, red, orange and yellow. And the smell of acrid smoke. And Christine's laughing face.

    Billy and I both got up to watch the early morning news. The reporter said the fire was under investigation and that one woman had been taken to the burn unit of the hospital. We had to call the police. I was guilt-ridden, thinking of the old lady and my role in her devastation, praying that she had not been injured. She is old school -in her eighties but I have seen her in front of her building patching the sidewalk with concrete. I was sickened by the thought that she might have tried to put out the fire and been burned. Billy brought up the fact that we were probably on a survellience tape at the store and that the cops would see that we gave crazy arson Christine a ride.

    The police came. They interviewed me. The old lady was ok, it was Christine who had burned her hands. The police asked me if Christine had mentioned that she was going to burn the building. I looked at the young cop. He didn't look old enough to shave. I said no, certianly not, I would have called you last night if she had made threats.

    It has been a few weeks now since the fire. Just yesterday, Christine barged into my office. I was with a client - I work alone - and she slammed through the door, heading straight for the bathroom. Odd behavior -which I now take as normal. When she came back out, she sat in a chair, her foot tapping a mile a minute, glaring at me. I continued speaking to the people I was with, but inside I thought -What fresh hell is this? Christine then bolted up out of her chair, only pausing at the door long enough to tell me - I will be back and it should be interesting. I waited but she didn't come back. Not yet.

    photo by Edward Leaman
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