Twenty-Seven

Nine people died in the fire. Propane tanks and water heaters exploded. Trailers went up in flames.

An entire flaming oak tree fell on the trailer in unit five, and the trailer burned to a crushed black skeleton.

The Snodgrass’s barn-red house quickly burned to the ground with Hank and Muriel Snodgrass in it.

A shelter was set up in the meeting hall in Anderson River Park.

Anna and Kendra sat at a table drinking ice water. The building was crowded and noisy and hot. Dexter and Conan were on the bench beside Kendra lying side by side.

Kendra’s face screwed up and she started to cry. “I’m so sorry, Mommy. I feel like this is all my fault ‘cause I was so bad, Mommy, I’m so sorry.”

Anna put an arm around her, stroked her back. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. We got a lot to forget, that’s all.”

Kendra turned to her, tears coursing down her cheeks. “What happened to Marc?”

“Don’t worry about Marc. Marc is one of the things we’re gonna forget. We’re gonna forget all about Marc, and Steven, and all that stuff, you hear me?”

Kendra flinched, stared at her mommy a moment, then nodded.

“We’re gonna forget all about ‘em,” Mommy said. “We might have to stay with Aunt Rose for a little while, but we’ll get back on our feet, and we’ll start over. We’ll start over clean. That’s what we’ll do.”

“But what about Marc? I didn’t see him when we – “

Anna turned to her with her lips pulled back, clenched teeth bared. “I said you’re to forget about Marc. I don’t want you to mention his name ever again, you understand me? Ever.”

“O-okay, Mommy.”

Anna relaxed a little, took a collecting breath. Then: “You’re to stay away from boys. And men. You understand me?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“They’re all alike, and they’re all bad. All of them. They all want one thing, and that’s all they want. You’re to forget all about them, you understand me, Kendra?”

“Yes, Mommy, I – “

You understand me?”

Kendra’s eyes widened a little. “Yes, Mommy. I understand.”

“Good. Now. We’re going to think new thoughts. And we’re going to start over again.”

Even at ten-forty-six at night, the wind was still hot as it whistled around the corners of the building, wailing like some pathetic creature, hungry, lost, and desperate.

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