This story is by Shana Taube and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Frost gripped the edges of the window and the chill grew harsher. The storm that raged outside resembled a shaken snow globe. Jasmine leaned over the edge of the couch and attempted to count flakes as they crashed into the window.
Nothing bothered her. Well, almost nothing. She half-heartedly peered over her shoulder and expected to see her brother in the doorway. Instrumentals played from a boom box on the end table. Evan’s favorite. Jasmine leaned closer to the window and continued the impossible task.
Amid the storm, a younger version of Jasmine peered back into the window. A black jacket tucked snug around her plump, rosy cheeks. When did she last see that jacket? The background music came to a halt as the memory resurfaced.
Smoke crushed her lungs and snatched her out of peaceful slumber. She coughed.
“Evan…” she cried, “Evan?” Jasmine rushed to the front door.
If there’s ever a fire, get outside right away. Leave everything behind. I’ll be right behind you.
Her brother’s words echoed inside her mind and she burst towards the end of the driveway. Sirens yelled from a few blocks away and neighbors stepped onto their porches. Jasmine wept as brown slush merged with her favorite socks. She waited for her brother in the cold.
“Evan!” She yelled tentatively. Dark clouds drifted from the open front door and licked the roof. Wood sizzled and cracked as the flames intensified. The scream that left her lungs didn’t register until a firefighter lifted her from the ground. For a moment, she believed she could fly. She was dreaming. That was the only logical explanation for the turmoil in her guts. It had to be a dream.
“Jasmine?” A faint voice ripped into her thoughts.
Despite being the only one in the room, she whispered aloud, “Leave me alone.”
Jasmine retreated back to her memory of the accident. Her mother looked like a skeleton hovered over ingredients in the kitchen. A pungent burned plastic scent filled the room and a half-smoked cigarette sat in an ashtray on the kitchen counter. Evan walked in, his eyes locked on the mother that was oblivious to their existence. He handed Jasmine the last pack of crackers she tried to reach and steered her out of the kitchen.
Come on, I’ll read you a story.
“Jasmine?” The voice was louder this time, impossible to brush aside. “Can we talk about the fire?” Dr. O’Brien sat perched in a cozy loveseat with her chin in hand. She scribbled notes as they talked.
“Can you tell me about what happened on the day of the fire?”
Jasmine fiddled with her chopped nails and peeked at the clock before answering. “It’s all in my file already, isn’t it?”
The doctor sighed and leaned back in her chair. She scribbled more notes.
“I know you’ve told your story a dozen times already, but…”
“Don’t.” Jasmine interrupted. The clock on the wall ticked exactly to one o’clock and she wasted no time. “Look, the hour’s up. I have a lot of school work, so…” She lingered on the last word and it granted her the ability to slip away with little fight from Dr. O’Brien. Once outside the office building, Jasmine jogged the few blocks to Grandview Park. The main trail is just beyond the entrance of the park. Two massive oak trees mark the trailhead like a natural doorway. Jasmine trailed her fingers around the gnarled bark of the left tree. Minutes passed before she located the scratched message.
And she smiled.