Blinding smoke choked our tiny caravan. Its walls hadn’t caught yet, but they would, sending our home to the hereafter with Papa. I could live with losing my Papa and my home in the same week, but not her, too. Not my violin.
Orange flickered off her smooth surface, right where I’d left her on my little bunk. The blanket was still unburned. I grabbed both off the soft mattress, holding my violin tight to my chest and wrapping the blanket close around me. I stumbled sightless toward the door, but the flames had grown up the wooden walls of our beloved vardo since I ran inside.
Mother shouted my name from outside. “Mara, sweet Mother Mary, save my baby Mara!”
The door was a wall of fire, a gate to Hell. I tucked the blanket even tighter, wrapped a fold around my palm, and groped for the handle. The metal scalded my hand through the blanket and I fell forward.
I sucked fresh air in as I tripped down the three stairs, collapsing in the snow. Mother ran to my side and clutched at the sooty blanket. She babbled at me through a mess of tears. I pushed her away. Not that I wasn’t glad to see her, but I saw another face in the crowd that had gathered. The cold, manipulative face of old Lucia Saray. Only she could have convinced Mother to send our vardo up in flames after Papa died inside. All because of Alex.
I thrust my violin and bow at Mother and dropped the blanket to the ground. The wind whipped it into the wheel of the closest vardo where it flapped like a dying bird.
“Mara, what were you thinking?” my mother cried, cradling my tiny violin. “Holy Mother, you’re alive.”
“No thanks to that old hag,” I spat, stepping closer to Lucia.
The woman’s needle-like eyes narrowed even further.
My sister Jeanette stepped in between us. “Behave yourself, Mara,” she chided. “Have some respect for your elders if you’ve none for the dead.”
Holding my chin up, as if that could make me any taller, I spun on my heel away from the judgment in their eyes.
Fire licked at the painted sides of the bowtop wagon. Flame manes crowned Papa’s painted mares, one each for me and my two sisters. The little birds Mother kept bright with oil and wax had curled and warped under the heat. For sixteen years I’d called the vardo home and in less time than it would take to play an Irish jig, it was gone. And soon Jeannette or Hannah would take Mother away from me, too.
They all thought I was bad luck, anyway. I couldn’t cook or sew. I had no husband. The only thing I had was my child-size violin, the instrument I was meant to outgrow. But I never did.
“Mara,” Mother said when I walked back over to her. “Mara, Jeanette and her husband will take me in.”
I wrenched the violin from her hands, barely listening to her. I already knew what she was about to say.
“Mara, my lovely, I…”
I set bow to strings and played for my papa, for my home and for everything else I’d lost, a song that had been welling up inside me for the past seven days. Though my Mother and sisters had heard me play at unexpected times, they’d surely never witnessed anything as richly miserable as this lament. The crowd slowly, solemnly thinned, until it was only Mother, Jeanette, Hannah.
And Lucia, the woman who’d convinced Mother to burn our home.
The woman who accused me of driving her son Alex away eight months ago.
Somewhere in the middle of my dirge I realized that though I had begun playing for myself as much as for Papa, I’d wound up playing for Alex.
Lucia was right. I had driven him away.
But I’d be damned if I’d admit that to her.
Please, throw no stones, but I'm fascinated by the death rituals of the Romani people. I also thought opening with the MCs home burning down and her life about to change would make her a bit more sympathetic, since she's not the nicest character.