First published in Bartleby Snopes (2010) - read editor interview
Loretta clutched Jacob's arm as she studied the flames gorging themselves on their family's farmhouse. The smell of melting plastic, the fireworks display created by sparks rising from the inferno, the sounds of wood sizzling and fuel tanks bursting filled the air. The house would be gone before the firemen arrived.
She wiped a tear from her cheek and gazed at her brother. His face stoic, his back stiff, as if someone had rammed a shovel handle down his shirt, Jacob watched in silence. "Why?" Loretta asked.
When Jacob didn't respond, she returned her attention to the house and noticed two children playing. Jacob pushed her on a tire swing, while she squealed through giggles, "Stop, Jacob, it's too high." Jacob laughed and pushed harder. Her eyes blurred, and the scene shifted to the day they climbed a ladder to the roof of the long shed to escape the aliens. When one appeared near the ladder, Jacob peeked over the side to see if it was safe to jump. He screeched and stood up. A swarm of hornets blanketed his face. She and Jacob leapt off the roof and raced home. The next day, they laughed about it and pinkie-swore they would be victorious next time.
Loretta's focus shifted to four people playing in their backyard. She smiled at the memory of the evening baseball game when Jacob hit a popup. Her mother tripped chasing the ball and fell face first into a muddy patch. "Hey, mom," Jacob said, "I thought we weren't supposed to play in the mud." Loretta's mother wiped a brown blob from her cheek and raced after the howling boy. When she caught him, she lifted Jacob to her waist and spun him around like a ride at a carnival. Loretta and her father stood by, his arm around her shoulders, and laughed until their stomachs ached.
Years later, after their mother died, when Loretta was seventeen and Jacob fifteen, Loretta heard the rumors about her dad. How he was lazy, selfish, and unfit to be a husband. How his wife, "the poor woman," was beaten, and raped, and made to work in the fields like an indentured servant. The town folk had their proof when yesterday, on the day of their father's funeral, a single dark cloud hovered over the casket as Loretta said her goodbyes. Jacob stood next to her, silent, like now.
Loretta knew none of it was true. She remembered hearing muffled sounds coming from her parents' bedroom on Saturday nights and once in a while during the week, too. The sounds of two people in love. When the noises resumed after her mother's funeral, Loretta decided it was the new TV her dad had purchased for his bedroom.
She jumped when Jacob spoke. "Sorry, did you say something?" she asked.
"I set the house on fire because of what he did to me." For the fist time since the flames began their ravenous journey, Jacob looked her in the eye. "I wish he was burning, too."
They stood in the silent smoke, her fingers entwined with his, a hand on his arm, her head resting on his shoulder, like two figurines on a mantel. She closed her eyes as the last wall fell and squeezed Jacob's hand. She opened her mouth but couldn't say the words Jacob needed to hear. The words that would validate everything she'd lied to herself about for too long.