Ashes

January 17, 2012
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The story of exactly how the tragedy came about wasn’t clear. Some said it was some sort of freak accident, or perhaps an angry worker that had had enough. But any way it was told, Pete’s Topless Cabaret was burned to the ground, and with twenty-one people inside.


“Mom?” Teddy’s voice echoed in the big house, bouncing past doors and rooms until it found its intended object, a small woman that looked older than she was.

“Over here,” she called back vaguely, working on getting breakfast ready. He entered the cold room and stared awhile at the sight of his mother bending over the small fireplace trying to convince it to burn hotly. He had a sudden memory of the time when as a child she had taught him how to do this; She had carefully shown him that underneath the cold gray ashes there were coals that still moldered silently, waiting until they were blown back to life.

“You see, Teddy?” she had asked gently, “The ashes protect the coals, like little hearts.”

“Mommy, they look angry.”

“I suppose you could say so; they’re little hearts full of fire.”

Now, Teddy saw only a broken woman, as she had been ever since Annabelle’s death in a car accident two years ago.

“What is it you wanted, Teddy?” She asked as she straightened and then methodically moved around the kitchen whisking eggs and buttering toast for her husband.

“I just wanted you to know that I’m going to hang out with some friends tonight. We’ll be back before too late.”

She frowned and looked concerned for a fleeting moment. “Which friends are you going with?”
Teddy cleared his throat uncomfortably and said, “John and Cameron.”

His mother continued looking troubled, “Teddy, you know how I feel about those boys, they’re not good people for you to be around.”

Teddy grew exasperated. With a rush of now familiar prickling annoyance he replied angrily, “Yes, you’ve told me, and I still don’t care. I’d rather be with them than here any day of the week.”

At his harsh words Mrs. Fontaine’s face adopted a formless, blank expression that she used whenever something happened she couldn’t handle emotionally. Teddy hated the look; it reminded him of the month’s right after Annabelle’s death. But instead of apologizing he simply left her standing in the kitchen.

Mrs. Fontaine finished making breakfast then took her hat, a basket, and some garden shears. She wandered outside into her rose garden, a beautiful and well-tended plot that she cared for lovingly; almost obsessively. She called the roses her ‘little children’ and had been known on a few occasions to even name the prettiest of the blossoms. Now she drifted among the bushes and pruned off the drooping roses and pulled up weeds. As she did this, she began thinking of Annabelle, her little girl. Many years ago, back when she had been sweet and loving; before the make-up, the boys, and the clothing that smelled of cigarette smoke. She had loved to help her mother out in the garden, lugging around the basket for her and asking endless questions.

“Mom, doesn’t clipping off the roses hurt the bush?” she had asked.

“Well,” her mother replied thoughtfully, “yes, it does hurt it for a little bit, but the bush grows stronger from having it taken off.”

“But mommy, why do you have to clip off the roses before they can even bloom?”

Mrs. Fontaine had tenderly showed her as they kneeled side by side in front of a bush that the buds she clipped weren’t the pure white color of the others, had been tainted by frostbite, or were misshapen and not as beautiful as she wished.

Now Annabelle was gone and it seemed more and more that Teddy was leaving as well. He had started befriending the wrong people and on one or two nights he had come home late with the unmistakable smell of cheap alcohol on his breath. And there had been the incident with the drugs under his bed… Mrs. Fontaine shook her head in sadness and sighed.

“You wouldn’t do that to me, would you my little ones?” she cooed to the roses, seeking solace in their uncontaminated beauty.


Teddy snuck away to his room and brooded for a while after his blowup in the kitchen; if Dad found out he’d be whipped for sure. He know it had been irrational for him to get angry but he was feeling stressed and uneasy; John had sworn that the fake ID would be enough to get him past the door at Pete’s Place and Ted couldn’t afford another run-in with the law. He’d gone to Teen Court for his last offence but he’d been warned that the next time he wouldn’t even be given juvie; the courts would just wait for his birthday to skewer him. At the same time he wasn’t about to back out. Cameron and John weren’t the type to waste their time on a kid who couldn’t even handle a couple risks.

Then Teddy thought of the broken look that had been on his mother’s thinned face when she had found the pot and it almost made him change his mind. Just then he saw her outside of his window, crawling among her roses, talking to them like they could understand. Anger filled his head with fractious thoughts; memories of her retreating to her garden after the funeral and not speaking to anyone for days, preferring instead the cold company given to her by the silent garden.

He decided to go to the cabaret that night.


Later, Teddy entered the building behind John and Cameron, excited and nervous. It was full of talking, smoke, and smelled like sweat and the fireplace back at home. He felt a sort of sickness in his stomach, but chose to ignore it. He allowed himself to be led along and get a drink. He made sure to keep his eyes down as much as he could, but even he noticed that the smoke was getting thicker and thicker and started to smell less and less like cigarette smoke.

Suddenly, a scream broke out from the other side of the room, “Fire!”

The whole room broke out in a panic, with some running for water and others simply looking around in a hazy sort of incomprehension. The fire was put out quickly, but almost as soon as it was, others around different parts of the room began screaming the same message, “Fire! Fire!”

People began rushing for the doors and windows. Ted saw the flames for the first time and could feel the room heating up; he began pushing his way back to the front door, but the others around him were howling, “It’s locked! We’re locked in!”

He desperately searched the room for any other exits but from the horrified looks on other’s faces Teddy realized that none of them were open. The fire was spreading, and it looked as though even more fires had started in other spots on the outside of the building. The sounds of shattering glass were heard all around and the mob began shoving to reach the broken windows and the cool air that whistled through them. Too many. Ted saw one woman, her bare top completely exposed, ground through the jagged glass by a large bearded man desperate to save himself.

“We’re going to die!” wailed one woman, right into Teddy’s ear. Just as she said it, there was a small explosion; the fire had reached the alcohol. After that, there was only the smoke and furious horror as the fire consumed everything and grew to cover the whole building.


At three in the morning, a knock sounded on the Fontaine’s door. A big man with sleepy eyes and gray hair answered, soon followed by his wife. They stared at the sheriff standing on their porch quietly, a sudden fear growing upon their faces. He told them the news as gently as he could and with a great deal of sympathy. Mr. Fontaine’s shoulders shook as he started crying, but the old woman simply held his arm as she tottered on her feet. As he turned to go, the sheriff glimpsed for a brief second the lights from his car as they suddenly caught Mrs. Fontaine full in the face and her eyes turned red for the smallest moment, like the fire that had killed her son was now inside of her. The sight made the seasoned law-enforcer shudder.

After he had left, Mr. Fontaine collapsed into a chair and sobbed for his two children, both gone so quickly.

But his wife just trudged upstairs to her room and took a shower to rid herself of the smell of gasoline and smoke that lingered in her hair and on her hands. It hurt to know that she had had to do it but Teddy had gone bad; just like Annabelle. But this time she hadn’t waited for her beloved child to become so impure that there was no longer any redemption to be had; this time she had caught him before he could cause her as much heartache as his sister had. The thought of Annabelle’s countless transgressions still made her wrinkled hands shake with rage. To think that her beautiful children had become so polluted! Well, now it was done, and even if it hurt for a little while, she would survive the necessary eradication of both Annabelle and Theodore Fontaine.



The next day, Mr. Fontaine sat at the kitchen table and stared sightlessly out at his wife as she pruned her plants. She seemed even more of a shell now than ever before. Her skin looked as gray as the ashes in the fireplace, but she continued to insist that she was fine.
His gaze sharpened for a moment on her as she reached out and found a small rosebud that wasn’t as white as the others with its small pink tip. With simple movements, she reached out with her shears and cut it off.





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