When James awoke, the first thing he noticed was the cool dampness of the grass against his cheek. A fire crackled and popped twenty feet away, and the smell of gasoline permeating the night threatened to choke him.
He coughed and lifted himself upright. When the world stopped spinning crazily around him, he stood, eyes riveted to the hulk of burning, twisted metal in front of him. The thousands of glass shards sprinkling the ground winked at him with fiery orange eyes, and he squinted against the brightness.
With his legs threatening to fold beneath him and tremors racking his body like a California fault line, James staggered to the fire. Salty tears stung his eyes; he didn't know if it was because of the heat or the thing before him. Before he knew it, he was on his knees in the cold dirt, his arms reaching helplessly for the woman trapped inside this metal cage of death.
"No . . ." he howled. "Not you! It's not fair! It should have been me!" He sobbed torrentially into his hands, all his senses focused on her: the way her hair had shimmered like spun gold when she tossed it over her shoulder, the gentle intake of her breath as she slept beside him, the scent of the light lilac perfume she always wore, the delicate softness of her hand in his, the sweet taste of her lips on his . . .
But now, the acrid smell of the fire invaded and everything changed. In his mind's eye, he saw her golden hair falling over her face as she tried to hide the bruises when she went out in public. He heard her sobbing as she huddled in a corner while he paced back and forth, so furious that he was seeing red.
He shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts out of his mind. "I never meant it," he cried, as if she could hear him above the roar of the fire and beyond. "Things were getting better, I promised! This is all my fault!"
In anguish, he leaned back on his heels, shut his still streaming eyes, and prayed for someone to please undo it all.
When James opened his eyes for the second time, the first thing he noticed was the softness of the pillow beneath his cheek. He lay still, his body drenched in sweat. A few inches away, he could see her back as she lay next to him. The smell of lilacs wafted gently to his nose and he smiled into the darkness of his bedroom.
"Thank you," he whispered, and reached out to touch her arm. At his touch, she fell over on her back, her eyes glassy and staring blindly at the ceiling. Her lips were slightly parted, but no breath escaped them. Bruises on her face and arms seemed almost black in the dark of the night.
James could only stare at the empty brown bottle of codeine still clutched in her right hand.