The past will haunt you because you failed.
Cassandra did not want to open her eyes because, every time she did, she saw the burning.
Before the light, there was the fire, always the fire. The flames that engulfed and consumed everything. The chairs, the tables, the floors, the food, Lexi.
Lexi, get out of the house.
Cassandra gripping Lexi’s arm, Lexi breaking free. The pounding of her footsteps. Running, running, running up the stairs.
I have to go get Pericles.
Forget the cat, get out, run.
Lexi heading up instead of out, the doorway falling in.
Lexi throwing the yelping irritated cat out the window but being unable to fit through the narrow opening herself. The windows were made for aeration, not escape.
Cassandra blaming her own stupidity, for following the guidelines, for doing what she was told.
Freedom is death, the posters said.
If the windows are only shoebox sized, the elders had told them, then the creatures won’t be able to get in.
You’ll be safe, they said.
What was safe, Cassandra now wondered? Who and what were the creatures? Had anyone ever seen them? Did they even exist, or were they figments of their imaginations? Were they actually real, or had the elders just made them up to maintain their control? Some of those men, Cassandra realized, had been on the council for 50 years.
Trust us, they said, their eyes placid, their grins benevolent, so reassuring. We will keep you safe.
It used to be that houses could have large windows, that the windows could open all the way. That yards could be open, that children could run from one neighbor’s house to another, playing tag in backyards and alleyways, the whole street their playground.
The council had recommended the change, to box everything in, to keep everyone apart, and most people had agreed with their wisdom. After all, the elders, like father, were supposed to know best.
But now, no one knew each other. No one trusted each other. Everyone kept to their solitary secluded spaces.
Stay secure, stay secluded, stay safe, the posters said.
When they went out, they did not speak to each other. It was best to mind your own business, protect your family, don’t concern yourself beyond matters of your immediate interest.
Did Mary across the street need help buying groceries? Don’t worry about that. It’s not your concern.
Afterwards, Cassandra doubted everything. All of the pamphlets they mailed with helpful suggestions on keeping your home danger-free, Cassandra tossed to the trash.
Cassandra knew now. There was no such thing as danger-free. To live was to risk.
Because she had tried to avert risk, Lexi was dead.
When Cassandra opened her eyes, for a moment, there was a glimmer of hope followed by searing disappointment.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, she thought. She hated opening her eyes because she knew: Tomorrow would be no better.
Lori D’Angelo is a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She lives in Virginia with her husband, sons, dogs, and cats. Recent work has appeared in Chaotic Merge, Idle Ink, JAKE, Litmora, One Art Poetry Journal, Toil & Trouble, and Wrong Turn Lit. You can find her on Twitter @sclly21 or Instagram at lori.dangelo1.