Kelli reread the letter inviting her to gather five “things” that she wanted out of her life forever. Gone from ever existing. She had two weeks to gather these things, items, documents, whatever she chose. They would be placed into a huge fire and all traces would be gone forever. Kaput. Finito.

She immediately considered the current administration. They’d certainly screwed up the country. But which five? She would get great pleasure in tossing them all into the flames. But no. These five items would have to be personal – things directly impacting her life, things benefitting just her. No one had ever thought about her needs. It was time to do just that.

Two weeks later Kelli found herself facing the biggest bonfire she’d ever seen. Hundreds of people lined up, waiting their turn. She recognized people from her community and watched them toss books, boots, papers, photos, and other stuff into the conflagration. She wondered why someone would throw away boots. Why not just give them away? Boots couldn’t tell a story, couldn’t reappear later to embarrass you or destroy your reputation. Not like what she was about to toss into the flames.

Finally, it was her turn. She reached into her messenger bag and pulled out the adoption papers she’d found among her deceased adoptive parents belongings. How many times did she wish she could go live in an orphanage? It couldn’t have been any worse. Especially on those nights her adopted father came to her room for a nighttime visit. And for the worthless woman who she had to call “Mom” who looked away, ignoring her pleas for help. No, she could hardly wait to get rid of this record. Into the fire it went.

When she was sixteen, she escaped, taking with her the several thousand dollars she’d manage to pilfer from her mother and father’s wallets over the past year. Both of them loved to carry a lot of cash around so they never noticed the loss.

Kelli managed to make it last for two years, living in shelters and when desperate, turning to begging. Eventually she needed more money than her bit of begging could provide and she turned to stealing. Naive and young, her luck ran out and she was arrested. She served three months and during her incarceration, picked up a few tricks of the trade, so when she returned to the streets, she was more successful. She’d learned how to hook and to steal. But she wasn’t street-smart enough to fool an undercover cop and again, landed in jail. This time for prostitution and theft. This landed her a year in the slammer.

From her bag, Kelli now pulled out her two arrest reports. With a silent and profound sense of relief, the flames quickly consumed the documents.

While in jail, Kelli became friends with a counselor, who recommended the young woman take an adult education class. Kelli was smart and a quick learner and soon, learned computer skills. She landed a job as a beginning level computer technician in a small law firm. One of the attorneys took a liking to the attractive and sharp young woman and they began to date. They married two years later, but Kelli was unable to have children. Her husband, adamant about producing offspring, began to have affairs. And when he was home at night, drank heavily and began physically and sexually abusing her. Her marriage rekindled traumatic memories of her abusive adoptive father and she filed for divorce.

She was awarded enough alimony so she could get her own apartment and a car. She changed jobs and already had been promoted. Even now, her ex-husband was intent on smearing her name with those old arrest records. Now, up in smoke, they were gone, but Kelli wasn’t done. Not yet.

Reaching into her bag she pulled out her marriage license and divorce agreement. She wanted nothing that reminded her of that mistake. She threw her marriage license into the flames but hesitated with the divorce papers. Perhaps she might need those papers someday. Instead, she pulled out her wedding album, filled with memories of a loveless marriage. With pent-up fury, she hurled the album into the fire.

Kelli watched. In awe of the light and the heat. And the power.

She turned to let the next person in. As she did, a feeling of euphoria washed over her. Free to begin anew, the demons had been exorcised.

3 thoughts on “Into the Fire by Linda Freedland

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