A large black woman sprawls across her couch, napping. At the other
end of the sparse room, a thin pale man dozes lightly in his wheelchair,
his head nodding, waking him. In the late afternoon, their basement
apartment offers a cool escape from the summer heat.
A Coke bottle shatters a window above the man, strikes the floor
and explodes. He jerks his head back hard. Gasoline glides across
the room, a light blue flame riding atop the liquid. The fire incinerates
a stack of newspapers. Swollen yellow flames quickly diverge, sucking
up the oxygen, leaping to chairs and a table. The blaze locates
things hidden from the eye, beneath the couch, in the cracks and
crevices, nurturing its hunger on everything that can burn. Thick
black clouds of smoke swarm the corners.
The pale man screams, bellowing out air. When he breathes back in,
thick dark matter surges into his lungs. He heaves the black smoke
back out, emptying his lungs again, leaving them unnourished. He
shakes and writhes. He grabs his wheels with his hands, discovers
he has no strength. He's out of breath, gulping for life. Epinephrine
courses through his veins. And fear. Desperately, he sucks the smoke
back in, vomits it out again. Reflexively, he gasps again, strangling
himself on the finest particles of ash.
In the black woman's dream, she is held by men in white sheets.
A man is lashed to a cross. They are about to torch him. Jovial
and arrogant, the men in sheets have no faces, but the woman feels
their demonic grins. She smells the smoke and kerosene wafting from
torches. She can't make out the man who is tied to the cross. Could
it be her grandfather? Or is it her brother? He appears strong and
calm. Her fear is fused with pride. She observes her brother clearly
now; a light brown man in his twenties, his jaw set and determined,
his eyes glinting and defiant. But she hears him scream - a weak
and mournful cry for help. The dream changes. Her brother is only
five years old - a little boy - helpless and pleading. She reaches
out to help him, but she can't budge.
She's strapped to the cross. No, she's bound to a tree. The fire
sears her, soot clings to her nostrils, terror overwhelms her. In
her dream, she is screaming.
Outside, passersby glimpse three young men running from the side
of the house. Later, these witnesses will tell police the arsonists
were skinheads: shaved heads, leather jackets and Doc Martin boots.
One big kid, two smaller ones, laughing.