The house was dark when you walked in. This worried you. For three years you dreaded she’d leave you. It took her father forever to accept that she fell in love with and married a black man. Her mother was always the more tolerant. Be that as it may, any time you walked into a quiet or dark house you anticipated seeing things gone and a Dear Geoffrey letter on the kitchen counter.
“Honey, I’m home!” You called out.
“The mating call of the fifties!” She answered back. “Get in here, you romantic fool!”
She was waiting in the small alcove you both jokingly called the dining room. Candles illuminated the small space. There was an open bottle of champagne and a sparkling glass by your place setting. A plate of shrimp scampi, your favorite, sat awaiting your consumption.
Wendy sat in her chair, regal and compassionate. Her severe blonde hair and striking blue eyes made her the most beautiful woman you’ve ever known. A slight smile played across her plump lips. You found yourself worried; your mind scrambling to remember what occasion warranted the elegant setting and candlelight.
“Sorry I’m late, hon,” you said. “Overtime.”
“It’s okay,” Wendy said, excitement catching in her throat. “I’m late too.”
At first, you couldn’t figure out what she meant. It was the way her slight smile became blinding across the table. Before the full implication hit you, you had scooped her up in your arms and smothered her in at least half a dozen kisses.
“Really,” she replied, returning every one of your kisses with equal, if not slightly more intensity. “I’m six to eight weeks along. You’re going to be a daddy.”
You were awaken by overpowering heat and a constant, but building, dull roar. What your eyes opened to was a scene straight out of Dante. Quickly, you reached over to wake up Wendy, but she wasn’t in bed with you. It seemed she might have already gotten out of the burning house.
Running through the burning house, you shouted for her, but you could only hear the blaze around you. There were pops! and the sound glass shattering in the heat. Part of you questioned whether or not you both remembered to put out all the candles before you settled into bed, or if some of the faulty wiring in the rented dump finally sparked. Both possibilities were increasingly irrelevant as the smoke began to choke you.
You reached the window. Wendy told you once that glass was actually, in fact, a liquid. It just moves very slowly. Imperceptibly. You jumped, hearing it shatter all around you, the shards tearing at your naked flesh. If glass was liquid, why does it rip and tear and cut when one dives into it?
Fire and Rescue was already there. Someone threw a blanket around you. It was only then you heard the screaming.
“Geoffrey! Where are you?”
She’s still in there!
“Wendy! Hold on, honey!”
You tried to run back, but someone was grabbing you. You struggled and fought, the whole time hearing Wendy screaming for you. A man in a uniform stepped in front of you.
“Sir! Please stop!”
“My wife’s in there!” You screamed, still pressing forward. “Get out of my way!”
“Sir! Stay here! We’ll get her out!”
“Get your fucking hands off me!” Your fist connected with a jaw, there was a sickening crunch and you saw teeth flying.
“Geoffrey! Please! Help me!”
The next thing you knew you were in handcuffs. All you could do was watch as the house went up in flames. It was as if the men in uniform were making you watch. Eventually, Wendy’s screams were drowned out by the roar of the fire. A horrific acrid scent filled your nose. Much later you would learn it was the smell of burning flesh.
Lawrence, a man who once resented you only because of the color of your skin, managed to get you uncuffed. Martha rocked you side to side while you wailed like newborn babe. You even felt Lawrence’s hand on your bare cut and burned shoulder. The three of you wailed together. They both promised over and over again that they didn’t blame you. This was an accident. It didn’t matter; you blamed yourself.
Eventually, a bag was brought out. Someone in a uniform said with as much detached compassion as afforded to people of that profession that there wasn’t much left. She was pretty well cremated.
“It’s not fair,” Lawrence muttered, touching the bag. “We lost our daughter and you lost your wife.”
You looked up at him, trying to be strong. Your own father all but beat into you that men do not cry. The fact you’d been sobbing uncontrollably since your in-laws had shown up made some part of you feel incredibly weak. Slowly, you reached out for the bag yourself, your voice cracked as you spoke;
“I was supposed to be a daddy…”