I put tulips under all the pillows and then I set fire to the house. It was her favorite flower, and I thought of her with each blossom. Pink, for the new love that we discovered together. Red, for the passion that we once both experienced. White, for our marriage vows and promises that we would be together forever. Purple, for the birth of our first child, and the happiness that we shared that seemed endless and unbounded. And black, for the scorched earth that her betrayal had left behind.
She had run me out of my own house with her fancy divorce attorney that her new boyfriend had paid for.
Tonight it wouldn’t be her house either. Letting me come back alone one last time to get “mementos and personal effects” was her last mistake. I’d take what mattered to me — which, in truth, was very little — and then I’d make sure that she regretted everything she had done to me.
One match for the cold shoulder in bed. A second match for all the nights she left me wondering if she had an accident on her way home. A third match for the giggles I heard behind closed doors. A fourth match for her turning our daughter against me. And a final match for her telling me that she never really loved me anyway.
I stood on the lawn as the fire caught the curtains in the bedroom, and then I slowly walked away. Of course, the fire department would discover it was arson, and the police would know it was me who had started the fire. It hardly mattered now that my family was gone, now that I had nothing to look forward to or to strive for. She claimed all our friends and made even my job working at the same company a living hell.
The sirens followed me as I reached the corner, but they stopped even as I continued on. I crossed at the intersection and headed towards my studio apartment that once seemed too far away from my heart, but now it was way too close to my pain.
Tom lost 25 bucks at the races. And I had gained my freedom.
We were celebrating my divorce (and privately, my miraculous escape from prosecution) at the horse races. Tom had been our best man, and somehow, he stayed my friend when everyone else walked away.
Even now, as we were nursing whiskeys at my favorite dive bar, he laughed about his gambling loss. Tom never bet money on anything, but he had been excited to try something so completely foreign to him.
“Freedom!” he had exclaimed over the phone. “You can do anything now. Live it up. Do something crazy!”
And so horse racing it was.
I liked the races, but I hadn’t wanted to bet anything. Money was so tight now that I was on a single income and having to pay child support. But just this once it seemed right to be reckless and extravagant. I had pulled out $100 from my echo chamber of a bank account and split it between two horses. I didn’t do too bad, either. One horse brought me a $150 win, and the other was a loss at $50, so I had doubled my money.
And afterward, we went out for drinks.
What I hadn’t expected was for Tom to make a pass at me — or for me to reciprocate and go back to his home for the rest of the evening.
The hole in his sock was the only clue that I was putting on his socks rather than my own. Laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, I glanced around for my own socks and couldn’t find them. As I got down on my hands and knees to look under the bed, the events of the night before hit me.
I had slept with Tom.
I hadn’t really questioned it. His hand between my thighs didn’t feel awkward or wrong like I always thought it would. His breath on my neck, the scrape of his stubble against my lips — it felt good. And somehow, it didn’t feel as reckless as betting my last $100 at the races.
When he came back into the room with two mugs of steaming coffee, he saw me still on the floor in search of my socks.
“You’re getting dressed?” he asked, and set the mugs on the bedside table. “I thought you might want to stay a little longer.”
I stood up and took a seat on the bed. “I shouldn’t — I mean, this is all kind of new to me.”
“You want to know a secret?” He sat down beside me. “It was new to me too. I never thought — ” he shook his head. “Ever since the wedding, I had weird feelings that I couldn’t explain. When you were standing there next to Christie, I thought you were doing the wrong thing. At the time, I figured it was just that I didn’t think she was good enough for you. But then, when you were having all those problems and called me, and we talked, I realized it was something more. You don’t mind, do you? I mean, last night…” he trailed off and glanced at the tangle of sheets and blankets on the floor.
I cleared my throat. “Honestly, I never really thought I’d be the kind of guy who…. But then I did, and I couldn’t stop. You know what I mean?”
He nodded and walked over to the dresser, where he blew out the candles he had lit the night before. “Don’t want to burn the house down,” he said with a wink.
I wrote this for SWAP52Club’s second weekly writing exercise. We received three prompts for a single story. After receiving each one, we wrote for 10 minutes. This is the story that emerged, with just light editing.
Jackie Dana is a freelance writer, editor, and novelist based in St. Louis. Although she has eclectic interests, her focus is on articles designed to help people find their way through an uncertain world. She published her first novel in 2015. In addition to writing, Jackie might be brewing herbal potions or reading a great YA novel. For her latest articles and other tantalizing goodness, be sure to subscribe to her mailing list.