Her name was Vikki. She was fifty-four years old. She lived alone in a little house on our hill. Her house was so reticent and mossy and shouldered by brooding trees that you didn’t notice it from the street. She had two cats. She never married. Had no children. Was a bookkeeper, but when she was laid off, she never got another job-and never really came out of her house again.
We neighbors were discreet or cold or shy or ignorant or polite or distracted or respectful or whatever word fits the fact that we didn’t know her and she didn’t know us, which was, as one neighbor said, the way she wanted it.
Then, not long ago, her house burned to the ground with her inside. The flames rose twenty feet high and the long fingers of the brooding trees caught fire too and firemen sprinted and shouted and ambulances and fire engines and cop cars roared up and down the street and children wept and the adjacent houses were evacuated and the young woman in the house next to ours ran by me weeping with her two children cradled in her arms like footballs and a young policeman came to my door to warn us and I packed a box of photographs and passports and Important Papers and got ready to wake the children-but then the young policeman came by again and said the fire was under control though the house was a total loss.
She died from the smoke, said the fire marshal. One cat burned also. The cat was in the living room...