“She’s coming to. Give her room.”
“Vi honey, can you hear me?”
I was on my back, a stiff pad under my spine. There was a pillow propping my head up and I felt the warmth and movement of bodies close. I opened my eyes. The bright light stung. I shut my lids but only after taking in the room. It was small like a box, a white metal box.
“Margaret?” I said but th name came out a muffled echo. “What…?” There was a plastic mask over my mouth and nose. I tried to move it away.
“No, leave it.” Margaret put her hands over mine. “Lie still. Take it slow. Breath shallow until you can get more air in.” I did as she said, keeping my eyes shut tight.
“Her blood pressure is returning to normal,” another voice, a man’s, said. “Her heart rate is fluctuating, I don’t like that, but it’s probably nerves. She’s scared.”
“I am not scared.” I said, feeling stronger. The man laughed and someone took the oxygen mask off my face.
“Really.” Margaret said. “Hmm. I’m curious to know what you are feeling then.”
“Thirsty.” I told her.
“Get her water.” She order and I heard a door open. I cracked my lids and followed the noise. Over the top of my toes I could see open air. There were a lot of people and vehicles and in the distance what looked like orange flags swaying in the wind.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You took a pretty good hit to the head.” Margaret replied, but I’d guessed that much. The throbbing was a dead giveaway. Under the dark of my closed eyes I fought to recover memory. I was running, then a blast...
“Our house…” I started. “What happened to our house?”
“Well, I have good news and bad news.” Margaret said and right away I knew something terrible had happened.
“Our house burned down. I’m so sorry honey.” She told me, facts first, emotion second. “Actually, it would be more accurate to say our house is burning down.”
“Right now?” I opened my eyes and looked out the door a second time. Now I could see the fire engine and that the people wore heavy jackets and held stiff hoses. In the distance was a fort of black timber spitting orange and yellow. “That’s our house?”
“Was, I’m afraid.” Margaret had her hand on my arm. “I know it’s tough to hear but I don’t want to lie to you. The important thing is we’re OK. We’re going to be alright.”
“Is there anything left?”
“It’s too early to say for certain, but it’s doubtful. You shouldn’t get your hopes up.” A chill rippled through me and Margaret smoothed her hand along my arm. “It’s only things Violet. Things can be replaced.”
“I know.” I lay still for a moment, wrapping my head around what she’d told me. “Do they know how it happened?” I asked, remembering the clock in the oven. Was it a bomb? It acted like a bomb.
Margaret took her hand away and sat up straight. “Yes they do.” She said. “At least we have that comfort. It was a combination of the fumigation and bad wires arcing. In a way we’re lucky. We could have started that fire with a can of deodorizer.”
I looked at her from under low lids. Was she serious?
“I think I’m ready for the good news now.”
“The good news is, you didn’t die in the fire.” She growled. Margaret was done expressing sympathy. I opened my eyes. Her tone told me I needed to be fully in the moment.
The light in our room was becoming tolerable. I was on a stretcher. There were buttons and screens on the left and bins of medical supplies on the right.
I tried to sit up again. “Am I OK? Did I get burned?” Margaret guided me back to the pillow.
“You’re fine. Not a scratch. Other than your head, that is. We found you unconscious behind the house. Luckily the fire stayed contained. Otherwise...” Margaret sat next to me frowning. “Violet, what on earth were you doing there?”
“Um…” I pulled up pictures from my day and placed them in order. “I was at the library.”
“Were you. Well I found you here. Is that where your car is? At the library?”
“Yeah, I think so. I had to leave it…”
“How did you find me?”
“You said you found me in the back yard. How did you know to look for me there?”
“Well I…I didn’t find you. The firefighters did. They called me because of the house.”
“Why did you leave your car?”
I remembered. There was someone watching me. I wanted to get away from them so I left my car. I came to the house because I felt like Margaret wasn’t telling me the truth. Now I was sitting in an ambulance, our house was gone and the sense that she wasn’t being honest was back, stronger than ever.
“I ran out of gas.” I lied. “Then I got on the wrong bus.”
“Oh Vi. How many times have I told you to never drive below half a tank?”
“I know. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking. It’s been a busy week. Tests. Lots of brain sucking tests.”
“You must be more careful.”
I nodded, relieved she bought the story, frustrated that she made me want to tell it.
“What did you do once you got here?” She pried moving her hands to her lap and tilting her head to one side. She was gentle and moved slow in a manner I was well acquainted with. This was the Margaret she became when she wanted to get me to talk. “You didn’t go inside, did you?”
So that was it. But why would Margaret care if I went in? Did she know about the bomb?
Outside the fire was almost out. Soon inspectors would be in the house searching for the cause. Soon everyone would know it was a bomb and not faulty wires and the finger pointing would start.
I started to panic. The heart rate monitor beeped loudly.
“Violet, did you go inside the house?” She asked, something unsettling rising in her voice. I forced myself to think of puppies, baskets full of adorable puppies. I had to stay calm so she wouldn’t hear the lie.
“No,” I answered. “I just looked in the windows. I guess I was homesick.”
“You know you left the plants, right?”
Margaret gasped and turned her head. She looked out the window but I could see her brow crunch down until her eyes were slits. “Damn it.” she growled under her breath. “…forgot about the plants.”
My head was clear now and I could see without squinting. I moved to sit up and Margaret put her hand on me again.
“I’m fine, really.” I told her. The bells and whistles behind me stopped ratting me out and Margaret squeezed my hand.
“You’ve no idea how happy I am to hear that.” She leaned over and kissed my forehead. “I can’t lose you Violet. I won’t stand it.”
“Well it’s your lucky day. I’m still here. Still thirsty, but otherwise in one piece.”
“Of course.” Margaret smiled then slid closer to the door. “Hang tight. I’ll find out what happened to that water.”
She slipped out and I watched her weave through the people stamping out the last flames from our home. The immediate nature of a house on fire had passed. Left behind were nothing but memories, a pile of charred wood and a lot of unanswered questions.