Nothing could ever prepare you for seeing your home destroyed. Charred by flames and smoke so lethal that the life inside barely stood a chance. Then every opening bashed to pieces by men you respect and appreciate.
It’s difficult to see them the same way, after.
The smell was the worst. Acrid smoke mixed with burned timber. There could have been the faint odor of burned hair, but the melted carpet and singed insulation buried it beneath a thick plastic stench.
An arson investigator stood next to the claims adjuster, speaking a language born of their careers. Stony faces and rigid postures earned dutifully during decades of sifting through the aftermath.
Their hands were cold and rough.
A confession would make things easier, but they had the proof they needed.
The metal paint can had melted inward as the contents burned for fifteen minutes. Or more. Before the carpet in his room ignited.
When he left, he’d been smart enough to close the door. Or smart enough to not close the window.
Fresh air fed the flames until it overtook the walls and ceiling.
Then, the roof.
Molly was in bed, dozing through reruns of Friends. Spike had been sleeping on his spot in the hall closet.
Max had returned for my wife. But didn’t make it to my best friend in time.
They tell me he died in his sleep, from smoke inhalation. He never even knew.
But I know my dog. The smell would’ve woken him.
I saw the door. That closet door that we never, ever closed while he was in there. Deep grooves along the handle and sides.
Spike could’ve opened that door if it was unlocked.
I know my dog.
And so does Max.