Perfect Boss

By: Penny Wylder


Fire truck lights dance on the walls of neighbors’ homes. Embers glow beneath the ash, and there’s a crowd surrounding the burned heap that was my home. Smoke still wafts in the air even though the flames are out. Can a fire really destroy an entire house that quickly?

I get out of my car, forgetting to put it in park. It rolls and hits a row of garbage cans before coming to a stop. I don’t even care at this point. My mouth flops open, fists clutching my hair, and I can barely breathe. The air reeks of burned wood and I want to throw up.

“What the hell happened?” I say to one of the firemen coming from the scene. He won’t let me come any closer even though it’s my property.

“Is this your home?” he asks.

I want to scream at him. Can’t he tell by the look on my face that I’m not just a curious bystander? I’m wrecked and it shows.

Instead of snapping at him like I want to, I just say, “Yes.”

“Looks like the origin of the fire came from a toaster oven left plugged into the wall.”

I swallow hard, tasting bile. My stomach twists, on fire, just like my house. It feels like the acid might burn right through the lining.

I nod, unable to speak, as if I were answering a question. Did he ask a question? I can’t remember. I can barely think straight.

My neighbors keep glancing at me as they retreat back to their cozy, still-standing homes. Some offer words of sympathy on their way. Some glare at me because I put their homes in jeopardy with my negligence. I would glare back at them if my face would allow it. Instead, I just stare at the destroyed remains of a dream now gone.

As the last fireman leaves, he says, “Might want to get ahold of your insurance company.”

Again I nod, and I get on the phone. But I don’t call the insurance company. I call my best friend.

“Alba?” I say weakly when she answers.

“What’s wrong?” she says, immediately hearing the shock in my voice. In the background there’s a riot of noise. She has a huge family and they all live in one little house.

“My house burned down.”

She makes a loud gasping sound. There are footsteps on the other end of the line and the sound of a door closing. Suddenly the background noise is just a soft mumble and I know she went into a different room to talk. I tell her everything that happened, about my stupid mistake leaving the toaster oven plugged in.

“Do you have money for a motel?” she asks.

She doesn’t offer to let me stay with her. I wouldn’t expect it anyway. There’s just no room. It’s not her house, so it’s not her place to invite me. Alba always escaped to my house when she needed quiet time. She won’t have that anymore.

I’m sure her parents would let me stay if they knew my situation. I could sleep on her floor. But I’m not about to ask for that favor. It’s stressful enough for everyone already living there. I don’t think I could handle all the noise anyway. I don’t need any more chaos in my life, and chaos is exactly what I’d be in for if I went to Alba’s house tonight.

“Yes,” I lie. I don’t have money for a motel. Not a single penny. I had just enough money for groceries and gas to get me by until I get paid, which isn’t for another week. I’ll have to sleep in my car tonight and figure out what to do about my future tomorrow. I’m sure after I talk to my insurance company they’ll cut me a check and I can get into something temporarily. It will all work out in the end. I have to believe that or I will completely drown in my sorrow.

“Meet me at the diner. I’ll get you a piece of pie and we can talk,” she says.

Her family owns a greasy spoon downtown. It’s a hole in the wall in a sketchy neighborhood, but the food is to die for. Normally, I’d be all over the offer of pie. Especially the peach cobbler. But right now my stomach is too sour to hold anything down, and I know if I start talking, I’ll break down. I don’t want to cry in a diner full of people.

“I’ll take a raincheck on that, okay? I need to get to the motel and check in for the night.”

There’s a long pause on the other end, and I know she wants to protest, but she doesn’t and I’m grateful for it.

Top Books