They Never Even Asked Me Why I Did It
A Dreamscapes Story
by Alicia VanNoy Call
It wasn't even that big of a deal. Or it wouldn't have been if the neighbors' house hadn't caught on fire too. It's been a dry summer, so the roof went up pretty quick. All licked with flames and then when they started moving down the walls, like flames literally crawling down the walls, paint curling and stuff, the firemen showed up.
They put it out pretty quick, so it really WASN'T that big of a deal. And the firemen were all pretty hot, (they didn't even put their coats on, so you could see their muscles and everything) so no one was really complaining. Even the neighbors whose side of the house got a little burnt, they told the hot firemen that the whole thing was an accident. So they never asked me.
But everyone knew. Long before the firemen rolled up their hoses and ran the siren for the little kids one more time and pulled out of the cul-de-sac, everyone knew.
Everyone knew why I splashed the tree with cooking oil and started it up with my mom's kitchen lighter. They were all just afraid to do it themselves, which is why they covered for me when I did it.
They all watched out their front room curtains, every single house. Watched while I cleared dead grass away from the trunk (I wasn't TRYING to catch the whole neighborhood on fire). Watched while I sprinkled holy water – I filled a dollar store spray bottle from the font at St. Mary's – in the soil. Watched while I did a bunch of prayers I got off the Internet – I covered everything: Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Mormon, even Wicca – to bind the thing. Watched as I struck (clicked) the flame. Watched as the flames gnawed up the trunk of the tree and pretty soon sent blackened leaves flying everywhere.
The neighbors came out on their porches to watch. Sap popping in little explosions. Twigs shooting off like rockets. The little kids were riding up and down the sidewalk, like they would with sparklers on the 4th of July.
It wasn't a surprise that people were celebrating. It stood there for years, kites and red rubber balls tangled in its branches: the reason people leave lights on at night. The reason the parents don't let their kids play outside after dark. The reason grass grew long under its shade and no Boy Scout could be paid to cut it.
The reason we all still lived here and no one could ever leave.
When the tree started to shriek, everyone ducked for a sec. Like during a drive by. Like it was going to fly out and tear our heads off. But then the trunk sorta caved in on itself, and the whole thing looked like it was melting, and it burned super white hot like I'd doused it with rocket fuel or something, and everyone was clapping and cheering, and then the neighbor's roof started to smoke.
But it all turned out okay. I'm kinda like a hero around here. People still talk about it at neighborhood potlucks and I get babysitting jobs all the time now.
We haven't had any problems with garden possession since then, far as I know. But Ol' Lady Hargrove's sunflower patch is starting to look kinda overgrown and monsterish, so I might have to get out the Canola again soon.