Last Flame by Tina Ziobro
She lit them when liquor said so. When Ricky left you, that’s what she did. She went for the lighter. It wasn’t until three weeks later that the house was stained with the smell of smoke, the sink full of empty bottles and seventeen years of memories were piled up in the fireplace. Pictures of their Vegas wedding, the trailer they lived in before you were born, the three of you sitting around the kitchen table with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of turkey on Thanksgiving. Pictures that made up a lifetime, her lifetime. She finished off her last bottle of whisky and crawled to the bookshelf. She pulled out a hollow copy of Catcher in the Rye only to find en empty hole that used to hold what she called her “rainy day money”. Ever since Ricky, it had been storming. According to the vacant book, it should’ve have stopped by now. She only had a few more hours of buzz left , so she sat and she waited as you watched with your head between the banister’s bars. She lit a cigarette, then another, and then another, until she was down to her last one. The tobacco burned, until it was almost just a pile of ash. She stared at the unlit fireplace, at the years of love reminding her of the betrayal. The photos, slumped over on each other, holding each other up in ways Ricky never could do for her. You followed her eyes to catch her staring at one picture in particular. Ricky laying on the couch with a baby, you, asleep on his stomach. Either the memory pushed some sort of button inside her, or the alcohol had worn off. But she got up, stood in front of the pictures, grabbed an empty bottle and chucked it at the mantle. She flicked her Marlboro towards the photos. It was only a matter of minutes before she stuck her hand into the flame, keeping it there. You sat on the outskirts of this life you no longer felt was yours, as you watched your mother burn.
You counted to seven. She didn’t move her hand away, so you got up. You crept close to her as silently as possible. You were at fifteen by the time you wrapped your arm around hers, guiding it away from the heat. She didn’t look at you, but she was no longer looking at the flames. Three minutes passed before she turned and locked eyes with you. Her’s had a few tear drops in them, but they were from staring into the fire for so long. She seemed to be content sitting on the floor, so you put the gate around the fire before going to the kitchen to make her some tea. Every few seconds you popped your head through the doorway, confirming her hand’s safety. You returned with a bucket of ice water and a steaming cup of Lipton. You had to be the one to put her hand in the ice, you had to be the one to put the mug to her quivering lips. You didn’t ask any questions, it wasn’t the time. You didn’t leave her alone, she wasn’t ready. Most importantly, you never mentioned his name again.