Madeleine Laveau left her home early on Thursday morning, as she usually did for her daily dog-walk, to find that her neighbours’ house — belonging to the widowed Mr. Adler — was on fire. “Oh my!” she said dog leash tugging in her hand. Were there any nearby neighbours, the ruckus would have alerted them. Without anyone else nearby, she took out her phone to alert the authorities.
Calmly, she provided the address. “No… No, I’m not sure. I’m not sure where he could be. I don’t see him… No, he is retired, but he goes into town for the day… Mon Dieu… I can’t remember… Alright. I'll wait here. Thank you, thank you!”
And they said they would be on their way, post-haste. In the meantime, Ms. Laveau returned to her house with her dog, and watched the progress of the flames licking from inside the bottom-story windows. “Goodness…” she sighed, and decided she had ought to call Mr. Adler.
“Hello!” he responded.
“Oh thank goodness!”
“It’s Madeleine Laveau, and—”
“Oh! Miss Madeleine! I thought you sounded familiar.”
“How are you, young lady?” He asked. And though Ms. Laveau was not young, not particularly, it was how he addressed almost everyone, as he was a rather old gentleman himself.
“I’m well, Mr. Adler please—”
“Bit of a dreary day, today, no? You know I read that all the fog was supposed to… dry up when they put in those factory regulations.” He scoffed. “Far cry from that on a day like this.”
“Yes, Mr. Adler, I—”
“Right, yes, what did you need, dear?”
“Mr. Adler… your house is on fire.” Ms. Laveau swallowed a lump in her throat. “I already called the authorities, and they should be on their way — but I do think you ought to know that the fire seems quite—”
“Well of course my, dear.”
“Well of course the house is on fire, Miss Madeleine, I set it.”
“Accidentally, of course. Ha-ha! I was fiddling with that antique oil lamp I inherited because I wanted to see if I could actually get it to work and before I knew, the flames were spreading around the whole room.”
“Why didn’t you call the fire department?”
“Oh... See, I thought that since I was such a clumsy fool, nobody really ought to go through to the trouble for me.”
“So you just went into town with your home a-blaze like that?”
“A blaze? Well it was hardly more than a… warm brazier when I was downstairs.”
“Downstairs?” Ms. Laveau gasped. “Mr. Adler are you still inside?”
“Inside, dear? Where else would I be? In town? Psssh. Dear. You know Mr. Glenn doesn’t bake croissants to-day. In which case, it might as well be considered a wasted trip.”
“You’re in a burning house! I’m looking right at it from my back yard!”
“Are you?” Mr. Adler hung up, and no so sooner did the rear-facing bedroom window open to a waft of grey smoke. Hanging over the window sill, Mr. Adler’s passively ambivalent expression took on the merriest of smiles. “Ah! Miss Madeleine! There you are! Oughtn’t you be at work?”
“Your house is on fire, Mr. Adler!”
“So it is!” He said, taking a look back at his bedroom inside. “Yours, however, is not!”
“It’s fine, but shouldn’t you get out before you get burned.”
“I’m afraid I already got burned. Shortly after I spilled the oil fire, I was in such an upset I took a sip of tea when it was right out of the kettle. Still have that… furry tongue feeling.”
“Mr. Adler you must get down right now!” cried Ms. Laveau.
“Oh, well, Miss Madeleine, i’m afraid that while I was nursing the blister on my tongue, the fire spread to cross the front door,” said Mr. Adler. “Failing anything else to do, I figured I should go upstairs and read through the paper.”
“Look, Mr. Adler can you please find a way down?”
“Well, I suppose I could.”
“Look, I have a ladder in the shed, I can go get—”
“Oh! No, dear. Thank you, but I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly impose.”
“But the fire’s going to take over your house! You’ll get burned!”
“Ah! My dear Miss Madeleine, I’m afraid that most deaths from burning houses come from asphyxiation or environmental collapse. And I have a window open and a glass of water. I should be fine for now.”
“Look, I’m going to get my ladder—”
“That really isn’t necessary. Oh— no dear. Dear?”
But Ms. Laveau had already gone off to her shed to fetch the wooden ladder which her son had used to fix the hole in the shingles of her stout cottage house.
“Goodness, dear, please don’t go to the trouble!”
“You’re going to die, Mr. Adler!” She called out, dragging the heavy ladder against the grass.
Mr. Addler, in response, looked back into his room, from which smoke steadily poured into the sky. “Well… you don’t certainly know that.”
Ms. Laveau whisked her dreadlocks behind her head and tried to push the ladder up against her neighbour’s burning house.
“No… It’s perfectly fine. Please don’t exert yourself! You still have a full day of work, dear! One must do their part to fuel the economy!”
“Your life, surely must be more important than a missed day!”
Mr. Adler coughed and shrugged. “Well if everyone thought like that society would surely collapse. There are tragedies and crises every day, miss! But maybe you're still young enough that every cat up a tree is a sensation, yes? Believe-you me! Not caring is one of the fringe benefits of aging! Now please, stop this nonsense and go for your walk while you still have the time!”
“Take the ladder down!” said Ms. Laveau as she pushed it up against the upstairs window.
Instead, Mr. Adler looked down at his neighbour. “Well, you see dear, that wouldn’t particularly be right, now, would it?”
“Well, you see, I knocked over the lamp, and while I probably ought not to have been so foolish, it was an action which, at its heart, was my responsibility.”
“That’s some nonsense, Mr. Adler!”
“My dear, if I was to accept a free route out of a sticky situation of my own creation, then I would have no means of learning accountability for those actions.” Mr. Adler had a short coughing fit. “And you see, see here, this befits one of the main problems of society, where those who have found themselves in hard times expect a free ride, as it were. Whereas it would greatly benefit society if we would see these hardships as an opportunity for self-development.”
“You can’t self-develop, you git, if you’re dead!”
“On the contrary, though I may be dead, my failures will ultimately serve as an example to others in a similar situation.”
“Mr. Adler, it’s perfectly fine to admit that you made a mistake—”
“Ah, see, I’m afraid I must stop you there, Miss, because decrying every misstep as a mistake removes the tenant of personal responsibility from our actions. At the end of the day, this is a result of my actions so the only fair thing to do with everyone’s time and energy is for us all to simply weather the consequences of my actions.”
“No, absolute bollocks! Here—” Ms. Laveau began climbing up the ladder to help the old man out as best she could.
“Oh no, dear, now I simply won’t stand for you putting yourself at risk for my foolishness.” He said, and immediately heaved the ladder away from his window.
Too surprised to make a noise, she fell backward into the fence her son-in-law had helped build to keep rabbits out of Mr. Adler’s garden. The polished hardwood connected uncomfortably (to say the least) wither her lower back. And for the last several moments of her life, wherein — downward-bound, she twisted her neck at an unfortunate angle — she was paraplegic.
“Oh well isn’t that tragic…” said Mr. Adler not a moment before the fire downstairs overheated a gas vein to the point of explosion. An expanse of internal force shook the house, and sent pieces of shrapnel through the wooden frame. One such tiny shard of metal ripped through his left leg, and almost entirely shredded his knee apart at the joint. No doubt, the result may have been slightly different if the projectile had connected with the metal knee on his right leg.
With the whole structure compromised, the support began to collapse into the foundation. Mr. Adler hadn’t even really had a moment to think about his knee before the roof itself above fell in. Splinters shot through his body at subsonic velocity, whole beams fell down and ripped him apart. He was, really, alive for far too long at that point, and did not truly succumb until the upper floor entire collapsed into the flames below.
The fire authorities had already collected Mr. Adler’s remains from the rubble before they noticed Ms. Laveau in the garden.