It was really a rather remarkably freeing decision. Once she decided, Anna felt a lot of the stress and anxiety that had bedeviled her over the last few difficult months starting to peel away like layers of a rancid onion. Throwing on a few close that happen to be on the floor in the bedroom, and not even the least wrinkled ones, she went out to the balcony that she shared with the vacant apartment next door. In fact, she was the sole remaining tenant of her four-unit building, and one of only 15 people in the entire complex, a complex originally built for 100.

The others had moved away due to the spiraling downward trend of the neighborhood, which is the only reason and Anna had stayed: it was the only rent she could afford on her meager salary as a waitress and substitute teacher. The weight of that knowledge, and the various valuable things that have been burgled from her apartment over the past six months, were one part of the puzzle. The intense feeling of inadequacy that had dogged her heels all the way to South Carolina was another. Everyone had expected great things of the valedictorian, even if it was of a tiny rural school. Her professors at art school had been a rhapsody of praise and encouragement.

And yet here she was, the shadow of squandered potential hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles, until her decision.

She drug a lawn chair out to the balcony, one that until recently been serving double duty as a dining room chair, and set it near the edge. Then, she retrieved a bottle from under the sink, one that hadn’t seen in any use since her charcoal grill had been stolen.

Sam’s Club sold a big bottle though, and it was more than enough to soak every surface in the apartment in a dripping sheen of accelerant. Taking up a perch in the lawn chair, Anna lit a match and flicked it through the open door. Facing away from the heat, she listened to the smoke alarm sing its baleful song until it died.

Everything her life had been, everything she’d accumulated, was in that apartment. In choosing to sacrifice it all on an altar like this, especially one, like as not, to see her charged with arson, hadn’t been an easy choice.

But, as Anna heard the first sirens in the distance and the growing warmth behind her, she was convinced it had been the right decision. When they came, and asked her what was going on, she simply planed to shrug, and say “I needed to make a change.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!