The glow of the flames was almost blinding. Black smoke billowed up from below her, just inches from her face. She briefly wondered if the sound in her ears was her blood or the fire.
“Darlene, what are you doing? It’s time to go!”
Darlene almost didn’t recognize her husband’s voice over the roaring. She turned her body to him, but didn’t move any closer.
“Darlene, let’s go! Now!”
Still, she didn’t move. She looked back and forth between his stocky figure and the fire below the landing.
“I’m sorry,” she said as tears ran tracks down her sooty face, “this is all my fault! I let it spread!”
Understanding twisted his face into a devil-red sneer. Spittle flew as he shouted, “You worthless bitch! What were you thinking?”
He took a step further, and she took one back.
What was she thinking? Maybe the issue was that she was acting on pure instinct, fight or flight pushed aside for something else. Maybe her subconscious knew she just wanted peace. No more anger and violence and hatred.
Maybe she wasn’t thinking, after all, that is what her husband would say. That she’s stupid; that she can’t be trusted to take care of herself. That’s why he makes the decisions, why he takes care of them. That’s why he gets so angry when she messes up and tries to do something on her own.
Maybe she was tired of it all. Tired of the shouting, the shame, the fear.
Go or stay? Go back to a life of misery, awaiting for another opportunity that may never come. Or stay and finally take control of her life.
She clenched and unclenched her fists, staring into the smoke. The heat from the fire dried her tears, making her skin itch. She shifted her weight, toes inches from the ledge where the railing he promised to install should be. Her shoes, a gift from him from what felt like a lifetime ago, started to stick against the hot metal. She took a deep breath, and everything around her seemed to drift away. The roaring fire turned to crashing waves, the thick smoke turned to salty mist, and the heavy air turned light. For an instant, she was weightless.
Hannah is from Cincinnati, Ohio, has 2 cats, and loves to write and paint in her free time.