When Jonah got home, his house was completely engulfed in flames. He saw it from the window of the Sixth Street bus as it passed, but he was a timid soul and didn’t jump up screaming at the driver to stop. Stepping to the rear door, he exited when the green light came on and began jogging listlessly back toward his address. After twenty paces he fell into a walk, taking in the carnival view of red fire trucks, black and white police cars, and multi-colored flashing lights. The neighbors stood in their yards, witnessing the exhibition of sound and fury.
Jonah’s wife sat on her butt in the front yard of their rapidly diminishing home, hands cuffed behind her back, ranting to no one in particular. Six feet away, an officer talked on his phone while keeping her in his peripheral vision. Two firemen walked past on either end of a sixteen-foot section of ladder, carrying it back to the truck. It was apparent a decision had been made to let the place burn itself out. The roof was slowly descending into the pyre, the whole mass popping and crackling like a bowl of the devil’s cereal.
He’d pleaded with her to stay on her Clozaril, putting it beside her plate with breakfast each morning, gently commending her for keeping the voices and visions at bay. This had been their cycle for fifteen years: hospitalization, a medicated state of grace, then the refusal to take meds and the descent back into madness. Jonah had become fatigued and indifferent, this time letting her drift away. The house burning was a surprise but, for now, it had everyone’s attention. After a last glance at the chaos, Jonah edged back down the street to the bus stop.
Robert Penick's work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and The California Quarterly. He lives in Louisville, KY and edits Ristau: A Journal of Being. In 2018, he won the Slipstream Press chapbook competition. More of his writing can be found at www.theartofmercy.net