The Last Drive

        The whole way through town, I know something’s wrong. You see a plume of smoke that big in the mountains and it’s never a good sign. It came up from between the pines, then it would disappear again as I steered the Jeep along the windy roads, and then the doughy column of it would come into view again. From the direction of our neighborhood. It was blackish, like manmade stuff was burning.

        I turned the radio off. I’d been down the mountain to go shopping and to the spa overnight with Elsie, and was running late coming home. I’d texted Matt to let him know, and, knowing how I am with being late to everything, he’d probably expected as much and said it was fine. He’d been putting in the new stove. Your handy modern guy.

        I dropped down into our Idyllwild neighborhood and it was confirmed for me that this was not a forest fire. It wasn’t the dry season yet, anyway. Someone’s house was on fire, and I caught a glimpse of chartreuse fire trucks through the trees on our street.

        My heart pounded as I kept my eye on the road and reached one hand into my purse, blindly fumbling for my phone to call him.
The A-frame houses at the entrance to our street were intact. Serene. Half were seasonal rentals and empty, anyway.

        We lived at the end of the street. I couldn’t dial in time.

        Nothing could happen in time.

        I put my foot on the brake and got out of the Jeep amid the rushing sound of water spraying from a fire hose. There was as much steam as smoke now. Firefighters in heavy yellow turnouts aimed hoses at the base of what had been our new kitchen.

        The cabin, only a year old, that we had built together. Now it was just a few pieces of metal framing with drywall and cables sagging around it as if you had hung them there like tinsel. One corner of it was still sort of intact, the bathroom, a charred shadow of where I had taken a shower yesterday morning and set the shampoo bottle on a window ledge that wasn’t there anymore. All you could see of it now was a black corner with pipes sticking out where the sink used to be.

        Behind me, there was a long, drawn-out crunch, and I turned around to see the Jeep had rolled back down the road, into the corner of one of the A-frame rentals, tearing off one side of its living room wall, shattering the window so glass fell like rain onto the hood. It was sitting between some window blinds and the crooked, naked two-by-fours that had been studs.

        That’s when Gordon, Matt’s best friend and a firefighter, noticed me and came running up, pulling off his black mask so I could see his face. “Lydia!” He blocked my view of the cabin with his body. “You can’t be here!”

        “Matt! Where’s Matt?” I cried. And I realized there wasn’t even an ambulance. That’s when I fell.