I stare at the smoldering remnants of the bakery, a mixture of sorrow and wonder swirling through my head.
Why? Who would find the spite in their heart to ignite what is, by extension, the food on my table and the clothes on my back? Granted, the building is insured, but it’s still distressing. My eyes scan the crowd, looking each of those people right in the face. They’re sad, sure, but it doesn’t cut them to the core like it does me, my family. I feel that cut widening, and slimy goop inside of me oozes out, into the grimy street. It splatters in time with the water from the fire hoses.
“You okay, Parker?” Dad wraps a solid arm around my shoulder, squeezing tightly so that I can’t tell he’s shaking. I can tell.
“I’m okay, dad,” I stare down at my insides on the ground, the ones that dad doesn’t see, “are you okay?”
Guilt flashes in his rushing river eyes, the way it always does when he lies, “I’m okay.”
Dad definitely isn’t okay. He poured his whole life into that bakery, including his heart and soul. I’m pretty sure that insurance won’t cover that.
He steps with his feet all evening. I don’t know what he used to step with, but it sure wasn’t those.
I kiss him goodnight on his scratchy cheek, and then retreat to my bedroom, but I have no intention of sleeping – How could I? I tie my thick amber hair back into a braid, pull on dark jeans, black high-tops, and a black sweater, and then press my ear against my door. As expected, dad’s loud snoring is audible from his bedroom. I stare in the mirror, right into my own rushing river eyes, straighten my sweater, and then turn away.
The police, the fireman, they’ve hauled away all of the evidence, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll find dad’s heart and soul. Then, before I can change my mind, I climb out the window. The bakery’s a five minute walk, silent, save for the crunching of feet on asphalt and my thoughts.
What am I trying to accomplish? As poetic as it is – and I am a poet – I know that I can’t find his literal heart as soul.
I almost turn back, but then, as I approach the bakery, something changes. A figure crouched in the rubble, with long black hair. She’s facing away from me until a stick pops under my foot, and she whirls around. I’m not sure what exactly it is in her blue sky eyes – the guilt, the regret, the pain – but I immediately know who she is.
“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you,” I assure her, and approach, stretching out a hand, “what’s your name?”
She tentatively reaches out to grasp my hand. Hers are papery and cold, smooth and creamy. Not the hands of an arsonist, I think.
“Aidan,” she supplies, and her voice is as delicate as her features.
I’m reminded of Snow White, “Hi, Aidan, I’m Parker, and you’re strange. I don’t think most arsonists return to the scene of the crime.”
Those sky eyes widen and she turns to run, but I still have her by the hand. When she finally stops struggling, I sit, dragging her down with me.
“You don’t get to go. Not until you explain,” her frightened eyes close momentarily, and she sits, nodding.
“Okay,” a strand of Aidan’s silky hair settles behind her ear, “It’s not a good explanation, though. Don’t expect anything.”
I nod, and she continues.
“Because I wanted to watch the world burn,” she says with finality, eyes cast downward.
I know now what I saw in her eyes; I saw poetry. Broken poetry, scrawled into her irises, twisted into the blood vessels.
“Wanted. Why past tense? What changed?” She looks at me, surprised.
“I thought I wanted to watch the world burn. But not anymore; Not after watching flames overtake this place,” she takes in a shaky lungful of air, “Because that’s what fire does, it spreads. I’ve been burnt, and the last thing that I need is revenge – I know that now. What I need is a cure.”
Her eyes aren’t full of fire, not like they must have been when she burnt down my second home. On the contrary, they’re watery.
I wonder for a moment whether her tears could put out the fires that she started; whether they could wash away my insides from the pavement.
“You don’t need a cure,” I voice my earlier thoughts, “you could put out your fires with those tears.”
It’s poetic, it’s cheesy, and it’s not literal or logical. My dad would scoff, but I don’t care.
“Help people, Aidan. Don’t hurt them,” I advise, and then push off of the ground, dusting off my pants, “There’s a volunteer cleanup here tomorrow. Be there, if you can.”
When I’m home, I sleep, and I dream of Aidan’s rainy sky eyes.