It was incredible that everyone believed her.
When she pulled her coat tighter around herself and told the first police officer to arrive that her mother had started a fire in the attic, when the first fire truck arrive and she added to the story, saying that he mother and friend were doing spells in the attic, and finally, when she produced the last flourish, speaking to a New Hampshire state trooper in a harried little whisper in the darkness, telling him that her mother's spell required a sacrifice, through it all she was sure she would be caught. She felt certain that they would know she was lying. Like when she'd made up that story about saving a kitten from a fire and those mean girls had asked questions, prying, trying to prove it was a lie, she'd been so sure that was what would happen.
But it didn't.
Everyone believed her.
She tried to make herself cry to further her credibility, but that was a step too far. She couldn't cry.
The man on fire was gone now. What she carried with her from that night on was the image of her mother crying and confessing. She'd looked so small, and Rachel realized too late that Helene was like her. She was small and afraid and Papa had hurt her. She'd probably made everything worse with the things she did, but then, so had Rachel.
She wouldn't ever really know Helene now, and as much as she'd grown to hate Helene, she found too late that she loved her too. Her bright hazel eyes that looked like Nan's, but not like hers. Rachel's remaining eye was blue, like her grandfather's...her....no. He would always be her grandfather. Now she understood why Nan didn't like to talk about problems. Talking only stirred them up, got them all agitated. It was better to let them rest. It was better for them to turn to dust.
When she thought of her mother burning to death, she felt two things. She felt immense regret. She felt immense vindication. She felt both wrong and so right about what she had done all at once. She couldn't sort through it all. She realized that she shouldn't try.
Nita was sullen at the funeral. She kept her arms crossed in front of her chest and sighed when anyone said anything about Helene. Although, she did at one point interrupt a conversation between Nan and some cousins Rachel had never met to announce that Helene liked Natasha and Boris.
"They're cartoons and they're Russian," she said.
"Oh," one of the cousins said softly. "Did you watch it with her?"
Nita sucked hard on her bottom lip.
"No, that's a stupid show. I only watch cartoons with Dad."
Then she hurried away and collected Amorey, bringing her into the bathroom, where the two of them remained for almost thirty minutes, until Nan went in after them and found them both crouched next to the marble sink, playing Miss Mary Mack.
Papa cried harder than everyone. Rachel tried not to look at him. It made her feel like her brain was on fire all over again, and she worried that she could kill someone else if he went on sobbing like that for too long.
"I'm not going to that Tierney woman's funeral," Nan said on the drive home. "She's always been a bad influence on Helene. She probably talked her into it. She probably talked her into all of that...witch bullshit...I knew that she was unwell...I just didn't think she was this unwell. I never believed she actually burned her own child. I wanted to believe it. That it was an accident..."
And Papa snapped, "Watch the fucking road and shut up already."
There were a lot of things that happened in the weeks after the funeral. People began speaking to Rachel in a soft whisper and crinkling their eyes like they were so sorry for her. Rachel wasn't permitted to go back to school right away; she had to spend a lot of time talking to that doctor again first, only she didn't tell him every thought in her head this time. She said vague things and tried to guess at what she was supposed to say. Judging from his reactions, it seemed that she was guessing correctly most of the time.
YOU ARE READING
***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...