THE SECOND INDICATED ARSON


by A.E. Weisgerber

This humidity wreaked havoc on Pam's can-can moves in dance class—the floor stuck just enough to prevent spinning on balls of feet—so she walked through routines in the back row. She could say she'd exercised; anything to stay busy.

This rain kept threatening. Standing in the overcast lot, sipping Starbucks—she ordered a medium regular coffee and for once the barista didn't ask her if she meant to say venti—she can see watery pulls in the distance near the mountains. The streaky haze below the clouds showed it still can rain, but always somewhere else.

Her heart kept thumping, and she tried hard to calm it. A ticker only came with so many ticks in it. An electric window had only so many ups and downs.

Back at her peacefully sited Chance Creek split, no amount of square breathing, diazepam, or sleep could do it. Sleep was impossible—a sparkling torrent of anger bullied her awake with pins-and-needles, every memory rolling her from one side of the bed to the other and back again until she gave up, got up. Her mother's lawyer scheduled the meeting for 8 a.m. Bright and early: time enough to close the books and fire up the bulldozers.

She didn't know her siblings had stayed in touch with their birth mother. She thought, after the stilted and ridiculous meeting—mother's accusation that they only contacted her because she was wealthy made the eldest gasp—they left her behind and all had a laugh at a diner and decided: better off without. She didn't buy it, but went along and never contacted the woman again.

They did.

She left everything to the two. And oh, her husbands never lasted long. She outlived four. From one she battled his own children for the beachfront on the esplanade in Redondo, from another's the long lot next to it, then she was given the Houdini collectibles free and clear from number three, and some Belgian stamps in sleeves with a little sack of Krugerrands most recently. It was all in the news now that she was dead. Everybody knew.

Yesterday, her siblings discovered a cracked photograph of the three of them at the bottom of a drawer: two on swings in matching outfits, and her bonneted face peeking out of a bonneted pram, her fat little hand holding steady. They sent it to her with a note about the meeting. They didn't tell her they'd stayed in touch.

It burned.

Fully awake at 3 a.m., she dressed, fetched a cigarette from the freezer, tucked it in her shirt pocket, and went out to the garage. An intermittent breeze fluttered southerly, felt cool. The moon, tonight, bided behind a mountain range of gradient clouds. Inside the carport, atop the cabinet with fertilizers and old trowels, she felt through dust for that old glossy packet. One of those fire lanterns, the paper-and-bamboo type. A friend in a Yahoo group for adoptive angst commiseration sent it to her from Pennsylvania, maybe eight years ago? She said it would be therapeutic to send off with a wish. She finally had a wish.

The lantern directions were indecipherable, beautiful, Korean. Eight years ago California was ignorant of sky lanterns, but now bans them. She slipped it out of its envelope and she built it easily, intuitively. She licked her finger sixteen times, enough to write mommy in spit on the paper. She carried it carefully through the door and looked at the sky and thought well, here comes rosy-fingered dawn, clutching at her own bonnet.

She lit a match one-handedly, and little balls of flame began their twisty dance at the edges of the combustible wick. She held the fat lantern steady as heat filled the void. It tugged at her fingertips insistently, but she held it to be certain, taking time to light the tip of her cigarette from its flame— she inhaled satisfying, stinging smoke from a singed fingernail, then discharged the lantern. It lifted above the dry garage gutters; the quiet silhouettes of the alders and sycamores allowed it passage to the gray dome, where it drifted south before winking away.

She stretched out on a chaise right then and there, let the damp dew press through her blouse and slacks. She tamped out her cigarette on the patio, and thought about nothing for just long enough to doze.

Two calls disturbed her rest: one postponed the morning meeting.




BIO: A.E. Weisgerber is a writer living in New Jersey. Her fiction appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Collapsar, Structo Magazine, DIAGRAM, Entropy Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and elsewhere. Her recent journalism has been published by The Alaska Star and the Alaska Journal of Commerce. She reads for Pithead Chapel, and reviews for Change Seven Magazine and The Review Review. She is at work on a story collection. Follow her @aeweisgerber or visit http://anneweisgerber.com