The inferno blew and blew. It rose above the trees and spread outward like villainous arms across the porches of the neighbors’ houses. The cries of an engulfed dog pitched high and then disappeared. Inside the Mitchell home, the mother smoldered in her bed, her skin bubbled and peeling. The father slumped over on the kitchen table, his lips open, his back on fire. The heat stripped and boiled the home’s plastics and metals, and then the splintering sounded and the house collapsed on itself. The son was gone before any authority knew to look for him, having disappeared into the open mouth of the Ninth Street station, his hands folded neatly on his lap as the M train churned and hissed.
The world swirled past his window in its dark and then splendid colors. He left the train at Broad Street, found a car with the keys still in the ignition, and drove it out of the city and up I-87: past the homes of the Christians and degenerates who had fostered him and his sister and up to where the land greened and the air thinned. He stopped at a gas station near Sloatsburg and washed his hands and face in the cramped, metallic bathroom, scrubbing his skin rosy until there was no scent of fuel or smoke, only the soap’s perfume. He looked at himself in the mirror and then dried his hands.
In Poughkeepsie, he left the car at the Greyhound station and took a taxi to the Amtrak station, where he boarded the midnight to Albany. From there he transferred to Chicago, where he left the train and boarded the 21 Texas Eagle, five hundred dollars remaining in his front pocket. By the time he reached Houston, the only remnants of his former life were the memories in the heads of other people. He was seventeen years old.
On the first night, the sounds clattered around him in their strangeness, but he made no outward impression that any local or official would remember. The streets he walked along clouded from the dust kicked up by feet and cars. He ate a plate of dark beans and salty rice that a vendor handed to him and slept deeply that night.
In the morning, he hired an old man with a 1965 Ford pickup and drove deep into the country. With its orange hues and people and rocks stacked impossibly one atop another in the distance, it began to assume the cast of another planet. It was 1972 when he arrived at Aguilares. It was the town he’d imagined since he learned its name, and now it was his home.
* * *
Nearly three decades later, Sofia called his name through each room in the house. He was not in the den reading, nor was he in the fenced garden with his trowel. Up the stairs, she called “Edward, Edward,” but he did not respond. Finally she found him sitting in Thomas’s room, the dead boy’s pillow on his lap.
“Edward,” she said.
He looked up from his spot on the edge of the child’s bed.
“Edward,” she repeated.