He burned down their house by the road. He built a fire in the middle of the living room floor and sat warming himself 'til he saw the fire was out of control. Then he staggered up and walked the path to his mother's house in the middle of the night.
He told her, "Our house is on fire."
She didn't believe him because he was drunk and, drunk, he was a constant liar.
"Just go to sleep on that couch and leave your baby and wife alone here," she said. She went back to bed and slept, but also checked on him to be sure his little family wasn't bothered by his drunken lies and abuse. She could control him as his mother.
In the morning dawn, a farmer from down the road a piece knocked on her door.
She hurried to answer. People were still sleeping and the knock sounded urgent.
"Missus, that house by the road, it was full of smoke and some flames so we called the fire department. They just about got it out now, and nobody was in it. You might want to see what you can get out of there before other people do. I'm sorry to tell you such bad news."
She put a coat on and boots. She told Toni, her eldest granddaughter, the one who rarely left her side, to look after her house while she was gone. Toni heard what the farmer said and she knew what was so important. She said, "Yes 'm. I'll start breakfast."
The grandmother went to look at the damage her son had done to a HUD house. It was brick, how could it burn down? The farmer went with her to see what had happened, and to help the elderly woman when she saw the mess it was.
The house didn't burn down, not the brick part, anyway. The living room had a huge hole in the middle of the floor. The grandmother could see black remains of a fire on the dirt under there. Every window had been broken to let heat out. No, worse. Every window was smashed out of the frame. Black soot covered everything in long streaks and made the walls and doors appear charred like meat on a bar-b-que. She opened the refrigerator and saw that even the plastic egg-holder on the door had melted. The light switches were melted. They looked frozen in grotesque shapes. The damp, burnt things sort of smelled like vanilla.
The farmer said, "When the firemen got here, they said they seen mounds of smoke in every window, and felt strong heat against the glass. They broke them windows to let that stuff boil out. They put on masks and searched the house once they was sure it wouldn't just explode. I think they were pretty scared, especially by a baby's room, but, thank the Lord, there was nobody in here."
That was true. The baby's room wasn't spared. Thank God the baby was. That little one was still asleep at her grandmother's house. Here, her fancy crib and mobile were melted and damaged beyond help. Soot began to make the grandmother wheeze. She'd let the girl take a look herself.
She turned and shook the farmer's hand. "Thank you, George. This is hard, but it could've been worse. Everyone's safe at my house. You tell those firemen I thank them for everything. I'll see myself home."
The farmer touched his cap and walked to a battered truck parked on the dirt road.
The girl didn't follow the path to the house by the road until her husband was behind bars for being drunk and disorderly, which happened only a few days later. The girl's mother-in-law told her earlier about the damage to the house and that nothing could be saved. She trusted the older woman with anything, and was grateful to have a warning about what had been her first home.
The girl walked into soot and melted things and tried to show her mettle by not crying. In the baby's room it was hard, though. The wife looked up where she'd hung her favorite toy, one from when she was a kid, a little stuffed monkey, and it was there, but had gotten too hot to look right. It was also blackened like everything else.
When the girl looked up there, she noticed a new birds' nest on the same light fixture and she smiled. There were fresh twigs and bits of cotton and life there. It was in direct contrast to its surroundings. It was like the nesting place of a phoenix. She suddenly knew she must also move away with her baby and rise on the ashes of the old into the new. She'd be a phoenix too.