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The soft blue sky absorbed the smoke and spread it around creating a veil of pale grey that settled on the people below.
Those who were merely there to warm their hands shook their heads and murmured, "what a pity, the poor people just lost all they have."
Others were interested in starting their own fires. "They say it started in apartment 302, I hear the mother living there has had depression for years now..."
Then there was a boy who stood three-fourths of a kitchen door tall. He locked eyes with the burning building from the front of the crowd and silently disagreed with the flurry of statements, insinuations, and ash that floated past his ears and coated his body.
He felt his neighbors around him and knew that they weren't the kind of people one would pity, and while the fire did start in 302, and his mother may have had depression, he knew for certain that she was not the culprit.
A silent tear traced a path down his grimy face, and he might have blamed it on the smoke creeping into his eyes, but as it hit the mutt in his arms he realized that just as the dog was his, the apartment had also been. And despite himself, he felt the acute loss of ownership.
Well, co-ownership, the little home had been his and his mother's. In it they had created fortresses, and played until they both dropped from exhaustion. Every Thursday night they had curled up in the little living room and fallen asleep to the old movies his mother loved only to wake up covered in stale popcorn and goose bumps.
A bedroom window broke from the heat and shattered his thoughts. He grimaced, there had been nights when they weren't alone as well. Nights when he carefully erased the evidence of his own existence just as he hid his dog from the land lord.
He knew it was the only way to keep them alive and in a house. He knew that it was her choice. He knew... but sometimes he wouldn't eat on those nights. Maybe if he ate less, her other job would be enough to pay the rent.
He cried on those nights too, and he thought maybe it would be better to be homeless, maybe we could find a way to make it on the street. Maybe...
The apartment had been his, the only thing that was his, but it repulsed him - it and everything it represented.
He decided then that the fire was, in fact, good. They could start again in a new place where there weren't so many bad people. They could start again without rent and without minimum wage.
It was in this hope that he had started the fire in the first place, wasn't it?