Judy James

by Jason Zippro

As the smoke sifted up into the sunset, Judy James sat in her white camisole and watched through her kitchen window at the green hue—the last rays of sun highlighted in the smoke. As the sun slipped completely away, she could see the orange glow flicking out onto the street from 3836 W. Country Drive, just a few homes down. Her back door rapped loudly just as she heard the sirens.

In front of her were small piles of carrot, cubed ham, celery, and sugar peas. She snapped the last sugar pea and slowly got up from her chair, shooing Teacup, her albino Siamese, off of her lap.  Her hip usually ached, but it silently burned now as she stood up.  Six months earlier the surgery had replaced some of her hip bone with surgical steel and screws. Three months later the court ruled against her, leaving her to pay for the surgery that she wouldn’t have needed if she hadn’t jumped at the curb when the car came barreling down the street.

The back door rapped again as she pulled it open and smiled at the two fourteen-year-olds panting on her doorstep. She lifted one slightly arthritic finger to her pursed lips before reaching into her black clutch to pull out two crisp one hundred dollar bills. She gave one to each boy, smiled again, and shut the door.
She leaned on the counter on her way back to her spot by the window where she began cutting onions. Outside the neighbors had come out of their homes, and the fire truck was parked in the orange flicker and spilled out yellow sooty men. One ratcheted a thick canvas hose from the side of the truck to the yellow and black face of the hydrant across the street.

She finished dicing the onions and slid the vegetables into a bowl before grabbing the matches. Slowly she worked her way to the back door, out onto the porch, and over to the grill. Next to it were two bottles of lighter fluid and a ragged roll of paper towels. One bottle was concave and mashed up into itself, and the other, though half empty, was fine. Judy smiled at them and breathed in the sooty air. It smelled like tar and oil.

She picked up the bottle of fluid and dowsed the briquettes before shoving a paper towel into them and lighting it all with a couple of matches. She sat down as they warmed up and watched the twin shafts of smoke—black and white—coming from just a few houses down. It’s burning pretty well, she thought. They were remodeling the garage and that’s where the fire must have started. It must have started in that garage, where all the sawdust, particleboard, and that new Mazda they owned were. If I had started it that’s where I would have done it, she thought.