My father’s house burned down during my first confession. Dad had a hangover and dropped me off at Saint Patrick’s while he and my brother Jeb went to a local diner for coffee and eggs. I spent a few excruciating few minutes in the confessional in which I denied having any sins. Then I sat on the church steps reviewing the transgressions the priest had assigned me (Have you ever deceived your mother or your father?) and watching a huge cloud of smoke rise beyond the A&P.

“Probably someone in the trailer park fell asleep with a cigarette going,” Dad said as I climbed in his yellow Ford Pinto. My father was obsessed with fire. He inspected the crumb traps of toasters and told cautionary tales of doomed Christmas lights. He lived in the guest cottage, but was forever showing up at our house to unplug appliances and monitor my mother’s overflowing ashtrays.

We passed the cornfields and the mucky llama farm. The closer we came to home, the more silent we became. The fire was not on Christmas Tree Lane. The trailer park seemed empty and deserted.

“Jesus Christ!” my father cried as we rounded the corner, “it’s my place!”

“I’m glad I was at the diner with him so he couldn’t blame this on me,” Jeb said later as we dug through a pile of charred country music records.

My mother and my oldest brother Joey arrived home with groceries. Joey found the fire hilarious, his stock reaction to most of my father’s misfortunes.  My mother, who played the organ for a rival church, looked for answers in the blackened sky.

 

Jocelyn Heaney

 

Jocelyn is a Los Angeles-based writer and teacher. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hippocampus, Talking Writing and elsewhere.

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