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Where There's Smoke There's Fire
A vengeful spouse
Lucy hated Fred, her husband, and was forever devising schemes to commit the perfect murder. I'll make it look like an accident, she would frequently muse, usually when she was doing the dishes or polishing the silver. I'll polish HIM off one day she'd promise herself. Her mind would roam free, hatching elaborate plots which would be certain to banish him from her life forever.
Perhaps I'll tamper with his brakes, she wondered. But no, she knew next to nothing about mechanics and even with a Readers' Digest car maintenance manual she wouldn't have known the first thing to do. Besides, she reasoned with a wry smile... there are no steep hills around here anyway.
Devising these plots helped Lucy through the day; if nothing else, they were a harmless form of escapism although in time the disquieting thoughts began to take an unhealthy grip on her imagination, becoming sinister. She had always harboured a secret fascination with fire and remembering back to her primary school days, Lucy recalled how, each playtime, she would meet up with a classmate and they would devise ways to burn down the school. These machinations, of course, never actually materialised - but what if they had? Two scheming youngsters could have been extremely dangerous if they'd given full vent to such tendencies towards pyromania.
One night, Lucy awoke with a start. The clock radio alarm was blaring loudly from Fred's bedroom but he was still slumbering soundly, oblivious to its intermittent, high-pitched noise. "Fred! For goodness sake turn that darn thing off!" Lucy shrieked from across the landing, "You must have set it wrongly!"
But Fred heard neither her nor the offending clock and continued to slumber like a baby. Lucy knew he was a deep sleeper but how could anyone remain oblivious to that incessant racket? Thank goodness we live in a detached house or even the neighbours would hear the commotion she thought as she silenced the alarm at the flick of a switch.
By now the children were wide awake, both assuming it was morning and wondering why it was still dark. Even the cat appeared confused. Lucy attended to their needs, then promptly returned to bed, thinking little more of the troublesome incident.
But in the morning as Lucy prepared her vitamin drink she recalled the events of the night before. Watching the effervescent tablet dissolve rapidly in a tumbler of water, she found herself wondering whether Fred's body would dissolve just as fast in a vat full of sulphuric acid. Preoccupied now with even more sinister thoughts she began to hatch a foolproof plan. The alarm clock didn't wake him, she reasoned, so what if there had been a fire? The smoke alarm would have gone off and he wouldn't have heard that either.
Some weeks later when the school holidays, arrived Lucy sent the children to stay with their Grandmother for a few days. Each night at 3:00am - the same time the clock radio alarm had sounded, she got up and tested the smoke alarm. Whenever it went off Fred remained asleep and mentioned nothing the next day. Now Lucy could put her plan into action.
Insurance policies, important documents and family photographs were soon gathered up and placed in the garage and it was then that Lucy realised there wasn't a great deal in the house which meant anything to her anyway. Apart from the family silver there was nothing of real value. Fred had been so frugal over the years that he'd hardly bothered to replace items even when they were well past their best. It was this parsimonious attitude which had driven Lucy to hate him. But soon she'd be rid of him. All the money he'd deprived her of was still there, sitting in the bank and would soon be hers. Lucy would claim the insurance money and she and the children could enjoy a better existence in a brand new house.
Starting the fire would be easy; Fred was always careless with his cigarettes. Lucy decided to set fire to the waste paper bin beneath the curtains in the lounge where he often threw his dog ends. How Lucy hated him near her, always reeking so strongly of nicotine; his stained, yellow fingers pawing her body. That was why she'd decided to sleep in a separate room... and because of the acrid smell of stale tobacco which always surrounded him. It made her sick to think of it. Every time she saw him light a cigarette she wished he'd disappear in a puff of smoke. It seemed strange to her now, that instead of checking round for dangerously discarded cigarettes she would in fact be the perpetrator of a conflagration. All those years she'd meticulously checked behind the cushions and down the sides of the sofa before retiring to bed. Years of emptying filthy ashtrays safely into the bin outside... but very soon she would be free.
It was almost 3:00am. Everything went according to plan; the cat was out, prowling the neighbourhood, beneath a full moon, and the meagre pile of valuables were safely ensconced in the garage.
Lucy gasped as she struck a match, staring at it for a few seconds as if she was some primitive being who had just discovered fire. And fire would be her passport to freedom from Fred. Throwing the lighted match into the waste-paper basket she watched it burst into flames; they began to lick at the edges of the curtains and in no time at all the smoke alarm sounded. Lucy shut the lounge door and ran upstairs to wake the children. Soon the three of them were standing safely outside in the back garden in their pyjamas.
"Where's Daddy?" the children cried simultaneously.
"He must have heard the alarm... he'll be out in a minute," Lucy said, reassuring them, as she rang the fire brigade from her mobile phone.
Just before the house erupted into a fireball, which for an instant competed with even the moon for brightness, a dark figure emerged, spluttering, from the back door.
"Daddy, Daddy!" called the children, running towards him.
Their mother remained rooted to the spot in disbelief. "DID you hear the alarm, Fred?" she asked when she had regained her composure.
Fred, still choking, shook his head to indicate a negative response since he could manage nothing intelligible in reply. "Mmmmmmmmmoooo..." was all he could summon as he pointed up at the night sky, continuing to gesticulate wildly until a paramedic came to administer oxygen.
But it had not been the alarm which had roused Fred from what would otherwise have been his final slumber. Gasping for breath in the smoke-filled house he had turned over in his sleep. Now facing the window, it had been the brightness of the full moon shining through the chink in the curtains which had eventually stirred him - Lucy should have picked a different night.
© 2015 Stella Kaye