Say that you need some time alone. It’ll be easier this way. Suggest that your partner visit her friends up north. Call it a vacation even though the kids know better. They’ll say there’s no pool, and no ocean, and they’ll be back before the weekend is even over. That’s not a vacation.
Your partner says it’s always a vacation if you go far enough away, whether there’s water there or not.
Agreeing on something again, even a small half-truth, feels good. It feels like hope. Stand in the driveway and wave as they pull away. The feeling leaves with them.
Finish packing and walk through the house. Look for something that everyone will miss. The kitchen table is good. Open the sliding glass door and drag the table to the backyard. Wave the neighbors over and tell them your plan. Tell them you want the flames to go higher than the trees. Stop and look up so that really sinks in. Ask them for suggestions on accelerant.
In the middle of the night, load the table into your car. Don’t be alarmed when it doesn’t fit all the way. You couldn’t have known. The furniture store delivered it for free. They’re out of business now.
There’s a law that says when you transport an object longer than your vehicle, it has to have a red flag at the end. But you don’t have any flags. That’s okay. It’s night. No one will see. The only way you’ll get caught is if you get stopped for something else.
Drive to the children’s birthday party restaurant that you’ll never go to again. Park in the back. Drag the table a few car lengths away and light it on fire. Don’t worry about getting caught. The table won’t take long to burn and besides, this kind of thing happens all the time at children’s birthday party restaurants.
Once the fire is out, shovel the ashes into old bookbags that the kids have outgrown.
If you’ve done this right, it’s still dark when you get home. Dump the ashes in a pile in the backyard. Sit on the patio and wait for the neighbors to wake up.
Rehearse how you’ll say, “So am I,” when they tell you they’re excited for whatever life has in store for you next.
But the neighbors don’t come outside. They don’t answer their door. And you don’t have time to wait. The vacation is almost over.
Before you go, rake the ashes across the grass until they disappear. Pick up any screws and brackets you can find. They’re important.
Keep them in the junk drawer at the next place that you live. And the place after that. And keep a few in your pocket whenever you go out.
You’re going to spend the rest of your life waiting for a phone call. If it ever comes, the time will cost you and those screws and brackets are the only way you’ll be able to pay.
Nathan Willis is a writer in Ohio. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Cotton Xenomorph, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere. He can be found online at nathan-willis.com and on Twitter @nathan1280.