Monica was running late for work, which also meant that little Gracie was running late for school. Post-work drinks had seemed like a good idea last night — great in fact. Scott was home for the evening, planning to do all the things around the house she wished he’d do more often, and she’d gotten the chance to let her hair down and spend some well-needed girl-time with Alice and Kate — at least until glass four, at which point, letting her hair down turned into letting herself go. Smoking one of Alice’s cigarettes had turned into buying a small overpriced pack from the vending machine, taking a book of matches from the bar for herself, and smoking maybe six or seven — she couldn’t remember.
Monica was on a roll and would have had another glass upon coming home, but there was no wine in the house. Since having Gracie six years ago, she had gone tee-total — excluding weddings and funerals of course, where a glass or two would be a guilty pleasure as well as social lubricant to make the occasions more bearable, and this morning was a perfect example of why she didn’t drink.
Monica wasn’t on good terms with her alarm clock at the best of times; the gnawing, screeching tone reminding her that today was a brand new chance to screw it all up again. Wrenched from a booze-induced anxiety dream that had something to do with the grocery store and being naked at the counter while all her credit cards were refused, Monica gasped at the tightness of her parched mouth, taking a glug of water from the small glass by her bedside, and tried her best to focus on the display of that bastard of an alarm clock through her fatigue-burnt eyes while Scott barely stirred beside her.
The usual morning rush started — minus 27 minutes. With some invisible entity clinging to her head and driving a knife-like pain deep into that really sensitive spot just behind her right eye, she’d popped a couple of Advils, managed a quick wash, brushed her teeth, scraped and tied back her slightly greasy hair, applied emergency makeup, and headed downstairs to the kitchen.
Gracie was already up and had already eaten breakfast. Now dressed, packed and ready for school, she sighed, “Mom, we’re going to be late again.” idly spooning at the remaining milk in her cereal bowl.
“We’ll make it sweetie.” Monica replied, not completely believing herself, but hoping all the same. Biting into a cold pop-tart, she grabbed the car keys, made her habitual ‘lipstick on the teeth’ check in front of the hallway mirror, before ushering Gracie out of the front door and onto the driveway to their Honda MPV.
The Honda started on the button as always, but, the fuel gauge was showing fumes. Monica could feel her stress level rising rapidly as if it couldn’t go any further already. The worst bit – she only had her self to blame. “SHIT”
“Mom, you broke the swear rule!” Grace said, looking up from her iPad, arms folding and looking thoroughly pissed off.
“Now’s not the time, sweetie” Monica said through a forced gritted-teeth smile, restraining a harsher outburst. Gracie huffed and frowned, and went back to playing whatever her latest game was.
Anywhere else, being late for school meant a red mark in the register, perhaps a stern word at parents’ night — at worst a letter in the mail. Not at Sandystone Elementary. The new principal, ‘Ms’ Harvey had been drafted in to turn around the failing reputation of the school, and had implemented a zero-tolerance policy across the board — what the staff now referred to in the more rebellious corners of the staff room as her ‘Blitzkreig’. Part of what Blitzkrieg entailed, was that any student’s lateness was now to be punished with an $80 fine. Bringing up a child was expensive enough, and as the state of Monica’s fuel tank could attest to, she could not afford to shell out another wasted eighty bucks this week.
With the fuel warning light glowing on the dash, they pulled into the Mobil gas station on Main Street. Busy this morning, but not too busy. Pump six was free. They could still make it! Monica turned the wheel to pull up when out of her peripheral vision, a large executive style Lexus cut in and pushed in front of her, taking pump six. A middle-aged woman, one of those corporate, mid-level management-bitch types, too full of their own self-importance, and in a suit with too much padding in the shoulders, stepped out and popped her fuel cap.
Monica could feel her temples throbbing. A wine-induced hangover was bad enough but mixed with her on-going problems at work, and with the stress of this morning, she could feel the rage boiling over inside her. She screamed in frustration, stamping the breaks and bringing the car to a jolting halt behind the Lexus, much to the surprise of Gracie and corporate-bitch at the pump.
…and then everything seemed to grind to a halt. Monica was calm. The world was at peace. She knew it was all going to be fine. She now knew her purpose, her goal. She unbuckled herself, opened the car door and walked calmly over to the pump, a serene expression on her face, eyes glazed. Corporate-bitch flinched slightly, frowning as Monica snatched the nozzle from her hand and she screamed in horror as Monica proceeded to spray premium gasoline all over her. She backed away quickly and then ran to the kiosk, as Monica continued — pouring the gasoline all over the Lexus, the fuel gushing across the forecourt floor, behind the Lexus, and towards Honda, with Gracie in the back seat, now paralysed with fear and confusion, screaming “MOM! MOM!”. The station attendant, aware of the situation, pulled the emergency fuel cut, and the pump stopped.
Monica dropped to her knees, and reached into her jacket pocket for the remaining cigarettes.
I am the light of the world. Those who follow will not walk in darkness.
A click, a glow, a wisp of smoke. The fireball took hold quickly, engulfing Monica, the Lexus at pump six, and the Honda in its searing flames. Amidst the chaos, Gracie’s agonised screams from the Honda, and the echoes of approaching sirens, no one noticed the shadow that detached itself from Monica’s crisping body, the slight distortion in the light as it moved calmly away from the forecourt and disappeared into the busy morning traffic of Main Street.