The morning mists hadn’t cleared off yet. Amy could smelled the thick wood and coal smoke, caught in with the fog. Coupled with the chilly air, it made her feel heady. Excited, like the day might be full of magic, or adventure.
Or at least a warm cup of tea.
Breakfast, a lump of bread and moldy cheese, was being stuffed in her mouth on the way to the factory. Not exactly a propitious beginning, given her wishes for the day. Especially for the tea. They were out.
Amy had stepped carefully over the slumbering form of George’s uncle Joe to open the cabinet. There was the tea tin, sitting alone. She’d picked it up, felt how light it was, shaken it, and sighed. Someone had had the last three cups last night, with, of course, no consideration for her morning.
Maybe after she bought dinner there would be enough left over from her days work to buy tea. That might happen. She could skip dinner.
Amy looked up to the patter of feet.
“Amy!” It was Maggie, shouting and waving from down the street as she ran toward her. Amy turned and waved. Liss and Salamananca were with her, although not coming as fast. They looked like ghosts, made pale and fuzzy by the thick fog. The tall buildings that lined the street were dark, filling in for the missing shadows.
“Good morning Amy!” Maggie said, stopping in front of her to pant.
“Hi Maggie. How are you this morning?”
“Out. Of. Breath.”
Liss and Sal came up. “Hey Amy.” Liss said.
“Hey Liss, hey Sal!”
Sal grinned at her.
“Did you hear about the fire?” Maggie said, having recovered her breath.
Amy shook her head, shoving the last of her bread in her mouth. She could smell potatoes, boiling, drifting on the waft of smoke and fog. “Where was it?” She asked, voice cluttered with food.
“East side!” Maggie said.
“All of east side.” Liss said blandly. “The whole thing.”
Sal snorted, shaking her head.
Maggie rolled her eyes. “It was Cormant district though, the whole thing!”
“What, really?” Amy’s eyes went wide, and the bread nearly dropped out of her mouth. She swallowed and tried again. “The whole thing? Is anyone okay? What happened?”
“It was a demon!” Maggie said, excitedly.
“Some moron lit themselves on fire trying to fix their boiler.” Liss said, much more prosaically. “Twenty three dead, forty some odd injured.”
“And it’s all gone.” Sal said, sounding wistful.
Amy spoke softly. That was way too many people. “Wow.”
Liss shrugged. “I mean, the whole neighborhood lit up.”
“I still think it was a demon.” Maggie said, light hearted and firm. “A big demon. How else could it have gotten the whole neighborhood?”
“Hmm.” Liss said, her voice dry. “Maybe because the houses were packed together like baby rats, and not nearly as clean?”
Amy started walking toward the factory, moving the group in that direction.
Sal said, “You’d think that the dirt would act as a fire retardant.”
“Sure.” Maggie said to Liss, Sal’s comment going unnoticed, “But people would still have had more time to get out.”
“It was only twenty three people. That’s pretty good. Fifteen hundred people lived in those tenements.”
That just made Amy sadder. Where were all those people going to live? “Do they have places to stay?” Amy asked.
“Did any of them see the demon?” Maggie asked.
“How many houses were there?” Sal asked.
Liss threw her hands up. “How the hell should I know! Ask a cop!”
The conversation devolved into an insult war between Maggie and Liss. Amy stepped right along. She wanted to get started. Maybe she could get to one hundred and ten shirts today. Then she’d definitely have enough to buy enough tea for a cup.
Sal slipped up next to her, and they let Maggie and Liss trail behind, arguing.
“You’re sad.” Sal said, after a while.
Amy let the silence sit for a bit, throwing their echoing footsteps back at them, while she thought. “Yeah.” She said, quietly. They were getting closer to the bay, and the fog was growing thicker and darker. It was like the sun was retreating back into his bed. “It’s just sad. I wish bad stuff didn’t happen to people.”
Sal nodded. “Yes.” She said, like it was a profound statement. Like all the weight of the world was on it. Then she cocked her head. “Tell me. How would you have stopped it?”
Amy sighed. She hadn’t meant to say she wished. That always lead to a long conversation when Sal was around. Normally, it resulted in a retraction of the wish. “I don’t know.” She said. If she said, ‘By having the person not light themselves on fire.’ then they’d get into conversations about free-will, children, parents, and whether or not she wanted an angel to show up every time she was about to do something stupid and tell her that she probably shouldn’t do it.
Sometimes, that sounded like a really good idea. But not all the time. And, of course, the angels would probably get tired of it, because people probably wouldn’t learn.
On the other hand, maybe it would work out. Especially if the time stop thing worked.
“Would you get the same angel?” Amy asked. “Like, would it be your guardian angel that showed up?”
“To tell you not to try and fix your boiler because it might light you on fire if you put the wrong spark plug back in?” Clearly, Sal had followed her line of thought.
“I don’t see why not.”
“That could be neat. You could make friends.”
Sal thought about that for a while. “I dunno.” She said, doubtfully. “I’m not sure I’d want to be friends with someone who tried to light themselves on fire so I would show up and talk to them.”
Amy pursed her lips. “Good point.” They both spent a few moments thinking about Patricia. “Maybe you could also write your angel a note? Like, asking them to pop in for tea and a chat or something?”
Sal nodded, thoughtfully. “That could work. Plus, then you could plan your day out beforehand. That way you wouldn’t do stupid things when the angel was busy.”
“Wait, isn’t the angel kind of booked to watch you all day?”
Sal shrugged. “I mean, I don’t see why. Not unless you’re really stupid. I was thinking they would putter around their houses like rich retired gentlemen, and then when you were about to do something stupid a little bell would ring and they would fly over and manifest in fire and glory and let you know that you should put the gunpowder down and don’t pick it up again please because they are trying to prune the petunias and it’s rather delicate work, thank you.”
Amy laughed. She’d said it so seriously.
“I mean, think about the other option.” Sal continued. “They’d just have to hover around you all the time. That’d be deadly dull. Especially if you were pretty smart. And what about when you slept? They’d have to float there all night, just in case you up woke and decided to shoot someone.”