The Fire Twin
by Andrew Newall
“Why did you start the fire in the school?” Karen asks the girls, tone soft.
Yvonne and Vivienne sit opposite Karen in her office, their identical straight dark hair hanging obediently past their shoulders, fringe stopping just at the eyebrows. As usual, Yvonne says nothing, preferring to look up and down at the files and paperwork on Karen’s shelves. Vivienne’s eyes twitch today, looking for an answer. Karen spots it: the first sign of individuality between the twelve-year old twins.
Yvonne and Vivienne Taylor are the mental health nurse’s latest case. Her compiled notes detail the tragic loss of the twins’ mother in an accidental house fire a few months ago. Subsequent relocation to live with their father should have provided stability for the girls to rebuild their lives. The twins were different.
* * *
While Karen was sifting through some casework one afternoon, a colleague charged into her office with news already filtering through social media. A fire had broken out at a high school library causing extensive damage. Two girls were to blame, though the school had no idea how they started the blaze. The incident prompted their father to request mental health intervention, and Karen was assigned.
* * *
“So, Vivienne, can you tell me why you started the fire?”
Stunned at being questioned directly, her words fumble through uncomfortable silence “To find Mum.”
“What do you mean ‘find’ her?”
“Yvonne said...” Vivienne looks at her sister beside her.
“Just look at me, Vivienne. Yvonne said what?”
“Mum used to say if you lose something, go to the place where you last saw it. We lost Mum in a fire, so Yvonne said we could find her in a fire.”
“Do you think so, too?”
Vivienne considers for a few seconds before shaking her head.
“That’s right,” Karen assures.
Yvonne scans the shelves again.
Karen asks, “What did you use to start the fire?”
Vivienne clams up, eyes look sideways towards her sister.
Karen pushes: “Yvonne, can you tell me?”
“What you’ve both done is wrong,” warns Karen. “Vivienne seems to understand that. Why don’t you?”
Yvonne scowls. Karen sees anger rising in the child and changes tack. “Why don’t you both tell me some more about your mum? What things did she like?”
“She liked reading,” Vivienne says.
“She liked the candles that smell. She always had them,” Yvonne quietly adds. After a few moments, Yvonne’s face melts into tears. Composing herself, she wipes her eyes. “We’ll show you.”
“Show me what?”
“Yvonne, no!” shouts Vivienne.
“Just do it with me!” hisses Yvonne, teeth gritting, glaring at Vivienne. “Look at all the books and paper stuff. She liked reading, she might come here!” She takes Vivienne’s hand, stands up, steps over to a bookcase. Karen watches, quietly fearing a new level of disturbance. Yvonne places her free hand on the wooden frame.
* * *
Yvonne fills her head with thoughts of her mother: games they played, places they went.
Vivienne fills her head with thoughts of her mother: games they played, places they went. Just as Yvonne has told her to do.
Yvonne thinks of how she will never see her mother again. Sadness. Anger. The feelings have started.
Vivienne thinks of how she will never see her mother again. Sadness. She winces at her sister’s grip. It tightens.
Yvonne remembers the evening of the fire. Her father collecting them from their mother’s house to take them with him overnight while Mum got changed for her late shift. They go down to the car. Her sister gets in.
Vivienne remembers the evening of the fire. Her father collecting them from their mother’s house to take them with him overnight while Mum got changed for her late shift. They go to the car and she gets in. Yvonne doesn’t.
Yvonne remembers telling her dad she’s forgotten something and has to run back into the house. She hasn’t really forgotten. She wants to leave her mum a surprise. She wants to light the big lavender candle so the place smells sweet when she comes out of the shower.
Vivienne remembers waiting.
Yvonne lights the candle with the matches from the drawer. She pops it on its plate and puts it on the mantelpiece so Mum will see it when she comes in to the room. The plate barely fits but it should be okay.
Vivienne remembers her sister coming back to the car and they drive off.
Dad gets a phone call. Mother has been in a fire at her house. She has been taken to the hospital, where she has died. Vivienne remembers sadness gripping her at the news.
Yvonne remembers sadness gripping her at the news. She remembers the candle, precariously perched on the mantelpiece, but it should have stayed! The feeling starts from the pit of her stomach, as it always does.
Vivienne thinks of her mum in the flames and the smoke, reaching out, calling for help. She starts to cry.
Yvonne thinks of her mum in the flames and the smoke, reaching out, calling for help, and all because of her. Only she knows. Vivienne doesn’t, Dad doesn’t. She can’t ever tell. The feeling is intense now. It pulses through her veins, temperature soars. It’s wrong but, at this point, there is no holding back.
Vivienne feels the tremors in her sister and wants to stop.
The throbbing reaches Yvonne’s palm held tight against the bookcase, then to her fingertips and on to the case. A stream of flame bursts along the wood. She barely registers that Karen screams and runs for help; she is too focused on her flames of rage crawling over each of the folders lining the case, awaiting their turn to burn. The carpet will be next, then the wallpaper. Mum might be here. If not, Yvonne will walk across acres of burning embers if she has to, and her sister will follow until their mother comes through flames to greet them with open arms.
Copyright © 2020 by Andrew Newall