a man loses everything in a fire; can he get it back?
|"Daddy, it hurts. Make it stop, daddy, make it stop."
The little girl's voice reminded me of the little girl’s voice I had tried so hard to forget. Why? From the fire, the fire three years ago...
A firetruck zoomed past me sirens wailing on my way home from work. Haven’t seen one of those in a while, I thought to myself. I saw my home at the end of the street and then did a double take. Flames were shooting out of the house, the fire truck trying to put out the flames in vain. I heard several screams as I slammed on the brakes and raced to the door. "Mary! Natalie!" I shouted as I ran. My wife stumbled out of the house wild haired and eyed." Nat, where’s Natalie" she said as soon as she reached me. "I don't know" I replied "I’m sure the-Mary come back!"I shouted as she ran back into the house.
I haven't seen Mary since. The week after the fire, cps took my two year old Natalie from me at the hospital, saying I was unfit to parent; I was under suspicion for arson, and loads of such gibberish. One woman was brought out of the fire but it was unclear as to whether she was Mary or Matilda, my best friend Tom's wife, who had come over that day. She was Mary’s identical twin sister, the only difference between them was their personalities. She didn't recognize Natalie, so we assumed she was Tom's wife.
I did a pretty good job of not thinking about it, 'til that day at dairy queen when the little girl was complaining of a boo boo.
1 year later (4 years after the fire);
I was tending my garden outside the kitchen when I heard the doorbell ring. “coming" I shouted as I brushed the worst of the dirt off. I opened the door and didn't see anyone "down here" a vaguely familiar voice whispered. I looked down and saw a little girl, who if her face had been washed might have looked exactly like Mary. "Are y-you N-Nat" she said her teeth chattering. She was shivering. "Come in, come in" I said as I stepped aside to let her through. I went into the kitchen and fixed 2 mugs of hot cocoa as well as a can of soup. When both were ready, I carried them into the living room, set them on the coffee table and grabbed 2 bowls and a blanket. I settled the girl on the couch, and handed her the blanket, a mug of cocoa, and a bowl of soup. “So what brings you to my humble abode?" I asked the girl. She looked at me, confused. I sighed. “first off who are you, second, how old are you, third why'd you come, fourth, abode means home." she looked at me then began her story,
"My name's Natalie, but my fake daddy calls me Mary, I’m six years old, and I came to tell you I know who burnt up your house..." "Whoa, your fake daddy?" I asked as I fought down the rising hope in my chest." yes," she answered with a steely glint in her eye." I think you're my real daddy." she stated this so matter-of-factly it took a moment to sink in. then I fainted... I woke up to a six-year old bouncing on my chest" wake up, wake up” she said in a sing-songy chant. "I'm awake" I grumbled “are you sure you're m-my Natalie?" I asked her “pretty sure" she replied. Then she got on with her story," my fake daddy was the arsonist. A lady came and told him that he was s'posed to wait 'till everyone was out of the house. He said he didn't realize that Mary or the kid (me) was in the house. He’d seen that snooty Matilda go into the house and decided he'd get rid of her. The lady said she'd had anesa..." "What’s anesa?" I interrupted her. “it was either amesa or anesa or amnesa""ah" I said she'd meant amnesia I thought to myself." go on" I prompted her." well then fake daddy said where's my money and the lady said 'what money?' and he said for burnin' up the house. She said he hadn't followed instructions so he didn't get any money. Then he charged her, but she ran out the door and closed it. Fake daddy ran into it and was asleep like you were, so I ran away and came to tell you" she finished with a bow and then sat down, looking extremely pleased with herself. Then, there came a knock at the door. "I’ll get it!" Natalie shrieked. "Oh no you won't, squirt" I said easily catching up to her. It felt like just yesterday that we were playing hide-and-seek in the old dining room. I scooped her up and opened the door. "Matilda!" I said in surprise. “You’re looking...uh... better" and she was. She looked like she had before the fire, not like when I had last seen her, with the shadows under her eyes, the burns on her skin, and her memory gone.
"Where’s Tom” she asked bluntly.
“Isn’t he at your house?" I asked her.
“No he bloody well isn't!" she shrieked.
"Matty, please try to calm down."
"Calm down? You’re asking ME to calm down? 4 years I’ve been in the hospital, not even remembering my name, not having a visit from anyone, while you've been with your wife and daughter..."
"Matty, I’ve just seen my daughter for the first time in 4 years. Mary died in the fire, you survived with just amnesia. I saw you yesterday, remember? At your house, you were with Tom. The doctors said that you were finally showing signs of regaining your memory."
“Well, I did. And I did so in the hospital with total recall of not just before four years ago, but the past four years as well. I’ve been in St. Mary’s Hospital for Damaged Persons, trying to remember who I was and who the names floating in my mind belonged to. When I regained my memory, I went home. Someone else answered the door, and said Tom and his wife had moved three years ago! I am Tom’s wife! I tried looking him up in the phone book, but his name wasn’t there! I despaired for a few minutes, before realizing you’d know where he was. I knew you weren’t at home because I remembered the fire, so I looked you up. Your address was there, and I came straight over.”
I hardly dared believe it. “So… that means… Mary’s alive?!? I’ve talked to her over the past four years without knowing it? I… Oh, Mary!” I raced for the door. Matilda stood there looking a bit baffled, then it hit her that I was going to Tom's. She took off after me, both of us forgetting Natalie in the excitement. She decided she'd join in the fun, and ran after us. I ran all three of those blocks that separated me from my wife, feeling as though I were traveling light-years instead of under half a mile. I arrived, and hammered on the door. Matilda caught up, right as Tom opened the door. She shoved past me and grabbed him in a hug and planted a kiss on his lips. I then realized that in four years I hadn't seen Tom and Mat... no Mary! kiss even once. Tom looked shocked. "M-m-matty? But I just left you in the... kitchen..." He decided logic didn't matter and kissed her back. I raced into the kitchen, where I saw Mary. She looked just like Matty, except for the scars that still crossed her arms. I pulled her into my arms.
She turned a blank stare on me. "Nat, I am Matilda. You and Tom have told me that for the past four years. I got amnesia in the fire at your house, when I ran in in a failed attempt to rescue my sister who had gone in after your daughter. Your daughter was pushed out, either by me or Mary, and a fireman brought me out. Mary's body was never found."
"That's because YOU are Mary!!! Matilda showed up at my house, right after Natalie... wait, where's Natalie?" I realized that I was so unused to having a daughter that I'd left her behind. I started running for the door, and almost tripped over her. She was staring at Tom and Matilda, who were crying and hugging.
"Natalie, come say hi to someone." I took her hand and brought her into the kitchen. I saw a brief flash of recognition flit across Mary's features, followed by puzzlement.
"Hello little one. Who are you?" She asked. Natalie simply stared at her, then raced over and buried her head in Mary's dress.
"Mommy! Mommy, mommy, mommy..." She kept repeating that and the tears began falling. Mary looked puzzled, a bit suspicious, then suddenly looked like she'd been hit by something. She shook her head, then looked at me, and I saw a new emotion in her eyes.
"Nat..." She whispered. "Oh, Nat! I remember, the pain, the pain! Oh, my husband!" Tears streamed down her face. I went over and enveloped both her and Natalie in a hug. The long separation was over.
But the story's not! Remember, we don't know who set the fire, or what happens when CPS finds out Natalie's back with Nate! and what about Mary, declared dead long ago.