“Can I get you anything?” the interviewer asked, putting on a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. “Something to drink, perhaps?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” John answered.
“Alright, shall we begin then?”
John nodded, pulled the blanket draped over his back tighter around his body.
“So when did you first notice the fire?”
“Uh, it was around 2:30 in the morning.”
“And you were in the house at the time?”
“As was your wife, correct?”
“Yes,” John answered, shifting in his seat. “Do you know when I’ll be able to see her?”
“Tell me,” the interviewer continued, “Where were you when you noticed the fire?”
John glanced around the hospital room. He watched as doctors walked past, clipboards in hand. He wanted to see his wife but knew that he needed to finish answering the questions first. “Um, I was downstairs. I was watching the stock market news for the next morning. I don’t sleep well. I usually leave the bed if I start tossing and turning too much; so that I don’t wake Scarlett.”
“Right,” the interviewer wrote something on a notepad. “And your wife?”
John stared blankly at the interviewer. Did he not just hear him? “She was in bed.”
“On the second floor?”
“And the fire, where did it start?”
“I first saw smoke coming from the garage,” John answered, thinking back to the incident that felt almost like a distant memory at this point. “It filled the kitchen and by the time I had entered to refill my cup of coffee it was so thick you couldn’t see your hands in front of your face.”
“Is this when you called 911?” The interviewer gazed into John’s eyes. Determined to see what laid behind those windows.
“I wanted to make sure Scar was safe.” John held back emotions. He felt tested by this man for some reason. As if he didn’t believe him. “Where’s my wife? I’d like to see her now.”
John moved to get up out of his seat.
“Please,” the interviewer said, holding a hand out towards John. “I have only a few more questions.”
“And then I can see my wife?”
The interviewer didn’t answer. Rather, he tilted his head and made a stronger gesture towards the chair, insisting that John take a seat.
John did and the interview continued.
“What happened next?” the interviewer asked.
“Well, once I saw the smoke filling the kitchen everything else happened pretty quickly.” John thought back through the foggy haze that cluttered his mind.
Why was it so hard to remember what happened only hours before?
“When did you first see the fire?”
“When I went up the stairs to the bedroom.” John squeezed his body with the blanket. “It had eaten through the floor of the guest room. It’s right above the garage.”
“Where did you go next?”
“I’m sorry,” John interrupted. “Am I in trouble or something? Cause—”
“Of course not, Mr. Harper. We just want to understand what happened that night.”
“Right,” The interviewer flashed John a forgive-me smile. “Please, continue. Where did you go next?”
“I,” John paused, thought hard. “I went into the bedroom to wake Scarlett.”
“Who was still asleep?”
“Yes. Why would I not be sure?” John asked a fire sparked in his words.
“Just doing my due diligence, Mr. Harper. After you entered the bedroom, you woke your wife?”
“And was there any fire in the room at that point?”
“Are you positive?”
John thought. He pictured the room. Him standing over Scarlett, shaking her from her slumber. The room was dark. No sign of fire. “Positive. I woke her and pulled her out of bed. Then we ran out of the house. That’s it. Now can I see—”
“When you came down the stairs, did you notice whether the fire had spread?”
John eyed the interviewer. What was he getting at?
“Think,” the interviewer prodded. “You must have noticed that by the time you came to the stairs that the entire stairwell was engulfed. That the first floor had almost entirely been consumed in the flames. Where did you go next?”
“I just told you,” John said, nervous to give so much confidence behind his own words. “We ran down the stairs and out the front door. Ask Scarlett. She’d tell you the same thing.”
“Do you remember get—”
“Did you ask her yet?” John interrupted. “Where is she now? I’d like to see her.”
“Mr. Harper, please—”
“Now!” John’s patience had been tried. He rose from his seat, letting the blanket fall from his shoulders, and moved to the door.
“Mr. Harper, please,” the interviewer called from behind.
John ignored him.
“Donovan,” the interviewer said and a man appeared in the doorway. He was a big, muscular man wearing scrubs like the rest of the hospital staff.
“What’s this all about?” John asked, his feet frozen in place.
“We just need to ask a few more questions if you don’t mind Mr. Harper.”
“Do I have a choice?” John asked, eyes darting back and forth between Donavan and the interviewer.
“Of course you do,” the interviewer answered. “We have but a few more questions to go over.”
John paused for a moment. Then turned around and sat back down in the chair, leaving the blanket on the floor.
“Thank you, Mr. Harper.” the interviewer said and continued. “You said you came down the stairs with your wife and fled through the front door, correct?”
“That is correct.”
“Then you called the police?”
“The neighbor across the street was already out. She met with us and said she had already called.”
“Mrs.,” he paused and flipped through a few pages on his notepad, “Jeannet Walker.”
“It appears we have some testimony from her as well,” the interviewer said, keeping his eyes glued to the pages of his notebook. “Says here, that she didn’t see you and Scarlett come through the front door. In fact, said nothing about seeing Scarlett at all. With or without you.”
John became mute. He didn’t know how to respond to the interviewer. He felt the conversation increasingly grow more and more hostile. He didn’t know what to do. What to say. How to feel. Where to go. He felt trapped, cornered. But why? He had just gone through the most traumatic event of his life and here he was being questioned as if he was some sort of criminal suspect.
Then John found the words he knew he needed right now but didn’t want to say, “I’d like to speak with my lawyer.”
“No need for that,” the interviewer brushed his request aside.
“Listen, Mr. Harper, I’m sorry that you went through this, I really am. But you need to—”
Just at that moment John shot up from his seat and bolted for the door, hoping that he could slip past Donavan before he could stop him.
Like a brick wall standing in front of John, his run was stopped hard in its place. Donavan wrapped John with his beefy arms and pulled him back towards the chair setting him down with a thud. He pressed firmly down letting John know that he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Listen, John, “the interviewer became loose. “we don’t have any time left. You either have to work with me or this is over.”
John squirmed in Donavan’s strong arms, said “Where’s my wife? I want to see her now! You don’t get another word from me until then.”
The interviewer took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and said, “your wife,” he let out a sigh, “she didn’t make it, John.” The words stabbed John.
“You’re lying,” John said in protest. “That’s not true. I—I saved her.”
“No John, you didn’t,” the interviewer slipped his glasses back on. He looked John in the eyes, “You only think you did. You’ve had a psychotic breakdown. You believe you saved her, but in reality, you didn’t.”
“No,” John said, fighting against the words, fighting against Donavan’s hold, fighting against the building emotions threatening to tear him apart. “That’s not true, I did save her! She's fine. She's gonna be fine.” John spun towards the door, “Scar! Scarlett, honey can you hear me? Please, please tell them you’re okay.”
The interviewer lifted from his seat, came over, and cradled John’s head in his hands, “You weren’t able to save her, and it’s okay. You can accept that.”
“I can’t, I—”
“You must,” the interviewer said, John’s tears flowing over his hands.
“No. No, it’s not true. Last night—”
“John,” the interviewer's grip tightened, aligned John’s head to his gaze. “It happened two years ago. You tried to save her. You did. You have to come to terms and accept that it is a reality. Please, John, accept it.”
John sobbed, Donavan, released his grip allowing John to fall into the surprising embrace of the interviewer.
“I can’t,” John cried into the interviewer's coat. “I can’t live without her. She can’t be gone. She just can’t...”
“I know,” the interviewer said, rubbing John’s back. He turned his head to the door, and said, “End simulation four-three-oh-two.”
The walls vanished around John replaced by white walls and white furniture. The man that held John wore all white and his skin was painted all white. The man that stood behind him also wore all white and had his skin painted completely white.
The interviewer released John from his embrace, stood swatting at his pant legs, and said, “Don’t worry, John. We’ll get her out of your head sooner or later, even if it’s the last thing I do. Just hang in there.“