By Dana Kroos
Does the woman know the man is dead? Did he die in bed? Was she beside him? Was the television on? Did it continue to broadcast, showing on the news the flashing lights outside their front door? As they slept, did the lit cigarette in the man’s hand drop mountains of ash to singe the soft carpet as it had so many nights before? Is the cigarette to blame for the fire? If so, was the man inadvertently at fault for his own death? Is the woman cold? Is she tired? Can she comprehend the scene around her—the fire, the emergency workers, the crowd, the child in her arms? Did a survival instinct in her waken? Or did she crouch in hiding, waiting for salvation or death—whichever came first? In the years to come, how will the woman explain this night to the child? Will the child blame her for not saving the man? Or praise her for saving what she did? Was the woman asleep when the man came home? Did the slam of the front door wake her? Did she listen to the man’s boots climb the stairs? To the flick of the lighter in his pocket? To the hiss of the cigarette as it lit? Or was she already awake? Did she wait for him? Offer him one more drink, then another, while she held a bottle to the child’s mouth? Did she help him to bed? Turn out the lights? Did he ask her to light the cigarette for him? Or did she do it out of habit? Fear? Spite? When the smell of his smoke filled the room, did she carry the child away? Or stay, and watch the man’s broad chest rising and falling, the big hands twitching in helpless sleep? Did the woman love the man? Does she love the child? Does she love herself? If she thought for a moment that she would not survive, did it frighten her? Or bring reprieve? Has she lost everything, or does she have things hidden away in places where the fire cannot reach? Things she thought would never be seen? Did the neighbors hear the woman’s cries or the cries of the child? Did they attempt to help? Did they feel that they might violate the privacy of the man and woman by sending emergency workers to their door? Isn’t it best to mind one’s own business? Are the neighbors watching now from the darkness of their closed windows? Are the rescue efforts keeping them awake? Do they wish, more than anything, for the silence that night deserves? Did the emergency workers notice the scars on the woman’s hands? Have they seen them before? Is the same brand of cigarette responsible for causing the scars and starting the fire? Does the child bear the marks of this brand? Will the child believe that these are for the good of the bearer—proof of surviving one moment, and then the next?
Dana Kroos received an MFA in fiction writing from New Mexico State University and an MFA in visual art from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Superstition Review, The Lindenwood Review, The Florida Review, Minnesota Monthly and others, and her visual art has been exhibited in various locations in the U.S. and abroad. She is currently completing a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature at the University of Houston. More information can be found at www.danakroos.com.