Dana had always believed in balance.
She didn't quite know she did, of course, but she loved saying the word. It rolled of the tongue fluidly, like "dance" and "sense", and made her saying "things balance out in the end" sound like the supreme law of the universe. It might have come from Sunday school – the first shall be last, and the last first – or perhaps science class – the conservation of stuff and all. Or possibly it was hard-wired in her human brain like phonological processing or a sense of her own transcendent importance. What matters is that balance was something she firmly expected of the world.
When the baby was born, Hank, her husband, took one look at it and disappeared for three days, only to return for his stuff and drive off, never to be seen again. But Dana knew that there was a reason somewhere and somehow for everything, from anencephaly to heartless men. The child, as was expected, died two months later, and Dana started waiting.
The new neighbors moved in the following year. They looked nice enough first, coming over and introducing themselves, then inviting her to have some pie and watch their new TV. When their little girl was born, Dana got her a blanket with teddy bears and offered to baby-sit whenever needed.
She didn't quite realize when the trouble started – maybe it was there all the time, simmering under the surface, or maybe it was one of those things that just happen, out of the blue. One night she heard muffled screams, furniture being knocked around, and the baby crying. The next day Jenny left the house without the child. She was away for several hours, and Dana could hear the little one crying in the house. When Jenny appeared, she was clearly drunk, and so was Robert when he found his way home later that night. There was more shouting, and this time Dana could make out the words. When it all settled down, the little girl cried herself to sleep on the porch, where her father had put her so she wouldn't disturb him, and Dana knew her time had come.
With some difficulty, she started the old Chevy parked in her backyard, and moved it in front of her house. She picked up the little girl and gently placed her on the back seat, covered with blankets. She rushed inside, put a change of clothes, a few photographs, and her dead baby's birth certificate in a plastic bag, and headed out the door.
The spare can of gasoline was in the car trunk, just as she had remembered. She walked around her house, then Robert and Jenny's, and made sure she spread the fuel evenly.
The fire started as a flash and quickly engulfed both houses. She watched it for a few moments, then threw Hank's old lighter into the flames, got in the car and drove away.
ANIKO RANKINE was born in Hungary and grew up in Budapest, as well as, if school breaks count, on the northern shore of Lake Balaton. She majored in English and Spanish at ELTE University in Budapest. She says, "As could be expected, I ended up teaching English and Spanish in adult evening classes and in a secondary school setting, but somewhat less predictably, I did most of this in the island of Jamaica." She currently resides in Northern California with her husband and two children which is "a perfect place for mixed-up people like us. I'm a stay-at-home mom at this point, which should make writing easy, but for some reason it doesn't…. "
What inspired her to write this story? "I suppose any explanation would have to be rather complex…. Needless to say, I am not now, nor have I ever been a child kidnapper or an arsonist, nor am I, to the best of my knowledge, acquainted with any such person. I do have some insight though into the uncertainties of pregnancy and childbirth, and I can relate to the deep desperation of women who go to all extremes to be mothers."