February 5, 2009

Burning Down the House
Julie McGuire

"I'm going to burn the house down," he said.

"Did you take your meds today, Dad?" I asked.

"Poison pills. I flushed them down the toilet." My father-in-law wouldn't look at me. "I hope the boys aren't home," he whimpered, staring out the car window.

I wished the line at the Burger King drive-thru would move more quickly. "We agreed, Dad. You have to take the meds or you can't live with us anymore."

"There's a dead body in my room, Julie. I have to burn it."

I took a deep breath hoping for patience not panic. I fished my cell phone out of my purse and sent my husband a text to meet us at Tucker Psychiatric. Again.

"The dead bodies go away when you take your pills."

"I'll be the dead body if I take my pills. You're trying to kill me, aren't you?"

I patted his hand. "Let's go for a drive, Dad. It's snowing outside. I know how much you love the snow."

"Trying to kill me," he muttered. "I'll be the dead body."

"You're going into a feedback cycle, Dad ­ repeating yourself. Take a deep breath."

"Dead body. Will be the dead body."

I blasted my horn, desperate to get out of the drive-thru line. "What would you like for dinner, Dad?" I asked. I hoped it would break his thought pattern.

"I'm going to burn the house down." My father-in-law's eyes were glazed over.

"Not until you've had dinner. How about pork chops and beans with corn?"

He glared at me. "Pork chops are for Thursday night. This is Sunday. You can't trick me, Julie."

"We can have whatever you want, Dad."

"You'll put the poison in the beans. I'll be the dead body."

We finally got our food. He tore open the Whopper wrapper, and took a bite of his burger. I pulled out of the parking lot and turned right.

"That's not the way to the house," he said. A moment of clarity.

"I know."

"Where are we going?"

"For a drive in the snow, Dad. You love the snow."

"There's no snow at the hospital."


Julie McGuire is a paralegal by day and writer at heart. She is the fiction editor at The Internet Review of Books, and her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Christian Science Monitor. She lives in Virginia with her superhero husband and their two remarkable teenage boys.

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