The plan was to light the fire and go. There weren’t instructions after that, just run, run, go, and I thought that would be the hard part, escaping. Not getting caught. Not going to jail—that was important. The rest was easy; light the match, throw it, go. Make sure the fire caught, run. Run back to Joseph’s house, or, if that was too far, run into a dark corner and hide, run into a store and act casual, run back to my house, maybe, break in through the upstairs window, just for a place to hide. But that was risky, that wasn’t an alibi. Try to run to Joseph’s, and that was an alibi. But if I couldn’t, run somewhere else.
That was the plan, but I stood on the edge of the property for a while, twisting the matches around in my pocket. What if I ran before it caught? It’d be hard to try again. What if I ran too late? Then it wouldn’t matter. Running was the variable, I thought. But the matches felt heavy in my pocket, heavy like—like a black hole—sucking me in. That’s what it felt like. I had a headache, too; that didn’t help. My head was splitting, the more I thought about it.
Light the fire and go. It was like on a teeter-totter, the weight shifting. Go, go, go, did it matter if I went? It was so late at night, so dark, they were probably all asleep. Probably all of them were asleep, even the kids who stayed up late and listened to music after their parents made them turn the light off and what if they all panicked, once they saw the flames, and couldn’t open the door right because they were too scared. I thought of scratch marks on the door, when they dropped the key they couldn’t fit in the lock, it never stuck before; they couldn’t do it in the dark and the fire, right there—they’d drop it and scream and scratch at the door, but no one would know, because the door would burn right after them. They wouldn’t see the scratches on the door, but I’d know they were there, scratched into the ashes too, of the door and the people.
If I lit the match I could go, run, run right into the river, and stay there.
I took the matches out of my pocket but I dropped them before I could light one, in the grass. I couldn’t see them in the dark. Suddenly panic latched onto my spine and reared up, and I fell to the ground looking for them, but I couldn’t see them in the dark, and the flames rose around me, and I scratched at the ground but they weren’t there, they weren’t anywhere. I thought of them finding them in the day time and not knowing, they’d never know. I started crying because I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want them to die, I didn’t want to kill them, if I lit the matches I’d run straight into the river, I’d die, die, die.
I find the matches and threw them into the street and ran.