We stayed in the car and watched the drapes burn.
The black smoke climbed to the sky, reaching and stretching towards Heaven itself, but falling woefully short.
The flames grew tired and weary as they ran out of drapes to eat. They yawned and fluttered down into slumber, into death.
A dense fog crept into place.
Victor and I decided to get back into the house before we lost sight of where the house even was.
We sat in the kitchen and waited for Lydia’s arrival.
I made a couple of sandwiches. We nibbled at the edges of them as if they were a stand-in for our fingernails. I can’t say if either of us even tasted the bread, much less the filling.
A couple of hours later, there came a knock on the front door. The sound carried loud and heavy through the silent hall.
I rose from my seat.
Victor followed me to the front door.
Lydia Toomey stood on the other side of the door, looking as unmediumish as a person could appear. She smiled at Mrs. Marlish and clasped her hands. “My dear. I hope all is well.”
“Victor and I are still in one piece. That is a minor victory in itself.”
“Indeed.” Lydia took a breath and sighed. “I need to go upstairs. I was unable to do so earlier.”
“Do you want me to follow you?”
Lydia thought it over. “No. This is something I must do alone. Otherwise, your emotions might interfere with my impressions. Please don’t misunderstand.”
“No, it’s fine.”
Lydia nodded. “Very well.”
“Is there anything I can do or give you to help you?”
“Bless you, my dear. No. I’ll be fine. Thank you so much, all the same.”
Lydia squeezed her hands before releasing them. “I’ll be down shortly. If I call for you, please come running.”
“Indeed, I will.”
Lydia approached the staircase.
The fear was worse than ever – as dense as the fog outside.
She tightened the shawl around her delicate shoulders. “I must do this.”
She walked upstairs.
One step at a time.
The fear and pain and sorrow tightened around her throat and pounded inside her head.
She raised her head and focused on each step.
One at a time.
She focused on each breath.
She stopped at the top step and closed her eyes. “Guide me. Tell me where to go.”
She opened her eyes.
The fog outside filmed over her eyes.
She released her grip on her shawl and shambled down the hall to Victor’s room.
Lydia opened the door and sat in the middle of the room. “I’m listening. Speak truth to me.”
From somewhere far away, a woman called out for her children.
Lydia’s old lips parted and she spoke the younger woman’s words.
Her children’s names.
“What have I done? God, give me a second chance. I need a second chance.”
Lydia blinked and the fog left her eyes.
Tears fell down her aged face.
She put her hand to her heart and bowed her head.
She cried quiet and long.