She loaded the suitcase, then the Tibetan rug onto the back seat, the trunk already full. Then she ran up the slate path, back into the house to get more. She loved that ragged rug, they’d made love on that rug, but that wasn’t why she loved it. She loved it because she’d bought it for a song at the flea market from a narrow-assed woman who was a bitch. A know-it-all woman who didn’t know what she had. A woman she’d outsmarted.
She grabbed her grandmother’s vase, the hideous overwrought vase that the old woman had so treasured and her children had hated. Which was why her grandmother had left it to her when she died, not her mother or uncle. Years later, when she’d looked it up online, she’d found it was worth a fortune, and she’d finally understood. Well, not a fortune, but a lot to her. Forty thousand dollars for something so ugly. She pulled out her sweater drawer, grabbed a pile of cardigans, left her pullovers, and rushed back out the door.
The wind was whistling, the sky brightening, and the sirens sounded like beacons in the night. “Hurry up!” yelled a cop from a passing car. “Now! Leave now!”
She looked up the hill at the strange beauty of the flames, the colors, the way they pierced the sky with light while darkening the ground. The fluidity of them and the ferocity with which they engulfed trees and houses, crackling and splintering in their path. She wrapped the vase in the rug, threw the sweaters on top so that the vase wouldn’t shift. Slammed the door and thought about all the other things she hadn’t taken. Photos, her checkbook, the title to the house, jewelry, her favorite coffee mug.
“Sylvia, c’mon. I’ll follow you down the hill,” her neighbor from three doors up yelled from his car. The young guy whose name she could never remember.
She waved for him to move on, but she was pleased, warmed he knew her name. “Go,” she called.
“No, get in your car.” He sensed, she saw, her hesitation, a woman standing on a precipice, fearful she would jump. The flames, closer by the second, thrusting, leaping, hurtling forward. Her house, her life, her memories, and joy.
The pain of his death.
“Sylvia,” he said firmly and began to open his door.
She fingered the keys in her pocket and turned.
Nancy Tingley is a curator and independent scholar of South and Southeast Asian art. While she’s written fiction in the closet for years, she’s recently come out – A Head in Cambodia, was published in 2017 by Swallow Press. Her mornings are dedicated to writing, her afternoons to the pleasure of the potter’s wheel. She lives in northern California on a hill.