A blue-ish hue enveloped the bright flames as they shot out in flashes—windows shattered, smell of burnt gas and dirt lingered below the rubble. Clouds of smoke rolled forward into the sky, shading the blue, shading the sun—drawing a dark circle above our heads, our houses, our homes. Mothers held their children back and Fathers stayed at work unknowing of the events set forth upon their families. Hours of flashing lights ran through the night. Walkie talkies beeping and sputtering people’s muffled voices in scattered parts as though they were speaking in code. The yellow tape looped and circled around schorched tree lines separating the other homes.
The house next door, on the right side, was empty—a renter. But the landlady lived a few houses away and stood in front of it shaking her head. She kept mumbling to herself, “It could have been my house, it could have been mine.” Her silver hair was wrapped in curlers and covered with a red silk scarf. Her robe was clingy and long it gathered in the back, yet still hung on her as if it was one size too big. She held a half empty cocktail in one hand and an electronic cigarette in the other. Her lips wrinkled together as she inhaled and rings would flow from her mouth. When the police questioned her, she sturdied herself against their car and answered every question with ease. Her shiny lips smacked when she talked, and she laughed hoarsely when they asked her if she knew the woman next door. “No-one knew her, little darling was a recluse.” She pocketed her thin and circular porcelain vanity, “It was a renter like mine… I wonder if Nick is aware…?”
The air grew thin and some of the passer by’s decided to keep moving. But those who were in immediate direction of Ms. Shaw’s House lingered for the whole show.
“She has a cat,” old man Frank said. He could be heard above the crowd, he directed his voice in the direction of the rescue team. They stood around waiting.
“Had a cat,” I thought.
The men looked Frank’s way, but didn’t say anything. One guy nodded at him, and the rest of them turned back and waited. They were waiting for the call to come collect the body.
I stood back, behind the crowd. I held my hands inside my pockets. I like my pockets. All my pants have pockets. I don’t like feet, I don’t like other people to wear shoes which expose their feet. I stand back here and I don’t see the feet. Ms. Shaw never wore shoes. She walked her cat around the yard with no shoes. I could see her from my window. Ms. Shaw would sit on her porch and rub her feet and ankles. I watched her pull her fingers in-between her toes. It made me vomit.
I rearranged my chair and TV to face away from the window. The window from which life passes, from which I can hear and see the birds feeding. I love the birds, they sound like sweet music that can never be recorded, not made from any machine. I have seventeen bird feeders, one can never have too many feeders. It’s my hobby, the bird feeders. They take time, care and detail—As soon as I am done with the soup I clean the can and begin to make holes. I make sure each one has four stoops to perch on. I glue popsicle sticks, chop sticks, old spoons, anything with a handle to the inside of the circles, and fill it with food. One of them looks like an actual house, made from shoe boxes. The roof opens and the food fills into a small pouch with an opening. Three maybe four birds could fit inside. I have seen them come and go in pairs, finches I think. I placed the bird house in the center of my yard, and now it looks like the birds have a soft green lawn to jump and frolic around.
When Ms. Shaw moved in, so did Mr. Bubbles, her cat.
The finches started disappearing. First the feet, then the birds.
The white of my walls started to turn gray, and the TV sounded hollow. I wanted my birds back, I didn’t want to see Ms. Shaw’s feet mashing into the ground. I wanted Mr. Bubbles gone. I felt the match book inside my pocket. I thought about the trip to the store. How long it took to drive there, and how long it took to fill the gas cans. I wore blue surgical gloves.
The men were called inside, and I knew what they would bring out. I walked away. Back inside my fishbowl home I thought to myself how nice it was. I was looking out my window, and the birds were eating. I looked at the burnt house across the street and thought, “I’m your bad neighbor.”