As the flames danced in the fireplace, Reginald groaned as he fingered the steel clasp that was constricted around his ankle. A bruise jutted out over the steel. Blisters and scrapes peppered his skin. His ankle was killing him. He peered down at the bruise and sighed; it was scorching inside the kitchen. And a silence permeated inside. Reginald rose from the floor and leaned closer to the flames and turned a single coal over the bed of coals in the massive brick fireplace. He sighed, his hand shaking and burning from holding the hot iron. It was a small weight in his hand. When he touched his belly button, his stomach knotted. He hadn’t eaten a proper meal in three days. He looked over to the left of the fireplace and stared at the door of the inventory: biscuits, carrots, onions, eggs, dried orange peels, honey; etc. The door was locked. And he never tasted the food. It was September 20th, 2035 and every day seemed to drag on. He was 25 years old and a slave. Reginald backed away from the rising fire, as it thickened with warmth. He smiled, wryly. He was used to the raging heat, and though at times he despised its warmth, it was still warmth. On lonely nights, such as this one, he craved the fire. A faint light bounced off his face. Reginald turned around. Moonlight was streaming through the window. He uncrossed his legs, stood up, and walked over to the window. His hard face softened.
Outside, in the wilderness, there was freedom. The window provided him with access to that free life, one that he knew he would never touch. He stepped forward. The clasp had a long and winding chain and that chain linked around his ankle—bolted to the brick wall of the fireplace. The chain snaked across the floor, like a serpent twisting and turning left and right. As he crept with each footstep, the clasp chafed against his skin. Red blisters and sores popped out beneath the metal. He moaned. When he reached the pane, Reginald inhaled, then held in his breath. He listened. The dogs were yelping. The horses were snoring. The crickets were crooning. Reginald turned back to the window. The rolling hills of the Estate were spread out wide and far, leading to a looming forest. The trees towered over the property like columns except these trees leaned to the left, and had nooks and crannies within them. Crushed leaves were spread across the ground like the remains of his ancestors.
Reginald watched a deer grate its antlers against a cypress. Two foxes were circling each other, in preparation for mating. And three cats were lapping milk from a tin can out by the stone partition. Reginald cupped his face with his hands, feeling the dirt and filth on his cheeks. He listened. A meandering stream was coursing through the meadow behind the hills. Water hit the jagged rocks and the stones sitting in the stream.
In his mind, he tasted the water.
The fire was still burning in the fireplace. Reginald walked on his hands and knees. When he reached the fire, the flames rose higher. He leaned to the right and picked up a long, stubby branch. The bark felt coarse in his hand. A sweltering heat grew within the kitchen while Reginald reached forward and poked a coal with the branch. A few sparks caught onto the rough wooden tip. He watched the sparks turn into flames. And then, he stared as the flames burned the wood. Reginald stood up and raised the burning branch. A plume of smoke bloomed from the top of the branch. Behind him, the fire burned. Reginald lowered the branch to chest level and took a step towards the window. In the glass, his reflection gazed back at him. And then, the fire burned stronger and brighter. Once again, he lifted the flaming branch in the air. He touched the window frame with the branch and watched as the flames ate away the wood.
Reginald smiled and watched the fire burn down everything.
Grace slurped on her blueberry smoothie, the straw stuck between her teeth like a toothpick, the used Toyota Camry burning a few feet away from her on the winding driveway, the smoke spiraling higher, past the dense foliage of a cypress tree, climbing up the streetlamp that hovered over the violent fire, the flames spreading across the pavement, so that the gravel and pebbles glowed red hot, the heat permeating in the stuffy air, touched and felt, on her fingertips, small drops of sweat dripping down her wrist, sliding down her hand, which carried a large can of lighter fluid, the smell of petrol overwhelming as the October breeze lifted it up to her nose, and a quick inhale, as she turned away from the fire and walked away and stepped on her green electric-motorized scooter, revving the engine, and cruising away from the yuppie-class neighborhood, in Arlington VA, where her ex-boyfriend Reese lived in a burgundy brick townhouse with his new girlfriend Sarah, who used to be Grace’s childhood best friend from the age of four—and who was now a cruel and unforgiving stranger who had betrayed her—she, the protagonist: meaning Grace, the nonchalant and brooding twenty-six year old who clutched her handlebars, until her nails dug into the rubber, her fingers reaching up to untangle her black hair flowing past her shoulders, goosebumps trailing down her spine, coalescing to an ache in her lower back from earlier.
Earlier when Grace had been waiting outside hunched in a squat position behind the cover of an evergreen shrub hedge, thick and overgrown with sharp leaves that cut open the callouses of her trembling hands, collapsing into fists once she’d seen in the bedroom window on the second-story of the house Reese and Sarah sharing a kiss, their arms wrapped around each other’s backs, their bodies pressed into each other like a hand high-fiving a second hand, and Grace growing warm and tense underneath her white blouse, sweat accumulating on her collar, the juice of the blueberries sliding down her lip and landing on the cotton fabric, but none of this fazed Grace and maybe this was because she had texted Sarah a GIF of James Harden shrugging in a comfy chair, in response to Sarah trying in vain and desperation, who, despite conflicted intentions, sent an unsolicited tough-love novel-length text, to comfort Grace for getting fired and kicked out of her manager job at Smoothie King (Grace had been snitched on for smoking an electronic CBD oil pen on a toilet in a graffiti marked bathroom stall while a portly customer knocked loudly on the door, yelling out that she smelled smoke and that she needed to use the bathroom for an upset stomach—which was caused by the rotten peaches that had been sitting out in a mason jar, behind Smoothie King, grown, nurtured, and hand-picked from Grace)—the tiny bones in her back cracking like the rocks and tree branches snapping and crunching beneath the two wheels of her scooter, a vehicle Grace had stolen from Reese’s apartment after he had told her that Sarah and him had slept together in the used Toyota Camry that Grace had bought for him for their two-year anniversary, October 14th, which happened to be today, the same day that Grace spent the time to plot the end of an ongoing love-triangle, a narrative that she didn’t realize could have so many ups and downs, twists and turns, backstories and structural changes, positive or negative, she couldn’t decide, like how she couldn’t decide if she loved Reese or Sarah more, because all of her life it’d been Grace teeter-tottering between loving men, and loving women; straight or gay? bi?, which seemed like a maybe, as though the denotation of the word maybe came out to have a quality more sincere than she could ever imagine having, and now at the porch steps of her crumbling townhouse, Grace carried the scooter up to her room on the third floor, shutting the door and locking it, and sitting down on her queen-sized bed, kicking off her rose-colored flats, her iPhone buzzing on the nightstand with notifications abundant, a yawn blooming from her mouth, lips pursed then forming into a smile, then parting again to reveal her teeth stained from the blueberries, the smell of gasoline, burning metal, and dense smoke lingering in her nostrils, Grace turning over on her side to stare out the window at the half-crescent moon reddening, her temper subsiding, for a little moment, small for her to hold onto, as the night darkened and the shadows spread over the pane.