Set the house on fire.
Save only the fancy outfit you picked for the trip you and your husband never took: sheer white gypsy skirt, wrap top. Bring no bags. Change into your vacation clothes while standing outside in the midnight darkness, barefoot in the grass. Leave your old clothes on the ground in the mud while your home burns behind you, flaking ash into the air, heat against your back, cool mist of the rain in your face, only it’s not rain, it’s the spray of the firehoses.
Smell the wood smoke. Watch a crowd gather. Walk away slowly so as not to draw attention.
Go back to college. Enter campus through the main gate, going under the vast stone archway, ignoring the gargoyle with a harp — or is it a lyre? — that leers down at you as you pass, nearly twenty years too old to be a regular except that you are getting younger with every step. Watch the students walking back to their dorms, going upstairs, having sex with strangers except they’re not strangers, they’re part of the community and it’s like a shadow of friendship and that’s enough. Break into the dining hall, steal one of the industrial-size tubs of ice cream. Hide it in plain sight in a communal fridge in a brown paper bag labeled Emily, here’s your fish.
Wander through a common room where dozens of students are watching 9½ Weeks. Consider getting a room with the tall one in the crew team t-shirt who watches you, fascinated, like you might be glowing, then decide you deserve better than a boy who tastes of pizza and beer. Keep walking.
Go to the lake. Keep going until the cold dark water is above your knees and your skirt is half-floating. Trace your fingers across the surface of the lake. When the water is just above your hips and tendrils are soaking up your shirt towards your ribcage, let your knees go out from under you. Sit on the lake bottom with your legs crossed and your hands exploring the silt and rocks until the pressure starts to build in your chest and nose and throat. Wait as long as you can.
Stand up slowly, as though you aren’t desperate for air. Smooth your hair back as you rise so that it follows one straight path between your shoulder blades, longer than you remember it being in years. Wipe the water out of your eyes with the heel of your hand. Smile at the skinny girl watching you from the lake’s edge wearing a campus patrol jacket and carrying a flashlight. Ask the girl for an escort back to the dorms. Wring the water out of your hair while she calls it in. Watch her put her radio back on her belt. Kiss her.
When she kisses back, slide one hand up the side of her neck, feeling the line of her jaw, the hollow behind her earlobe. Feel the contrast of the heat of her waist under your palm, the drops of cold lake water trickling down your spine. Wrap your fingers in her hair at the base of her skull and bring her in close.
After she calls in sick for the rest of her shift, go to her room. Feed her your stolen strawberry ice cream, retrieved from the shared kitchen. Leave your wet clothes on her warm radiator, leave nail marks on her skin, leave a note apologizing for stealing away while she sleeps.
Wake up. See your house, miraculously unharmed. Stand. Get the lighter fluid and matches. Burn the vacation outfit instead.
When the smell on the lawn wakes your husband of five years, tell him to get a bag ready. Tell him you have to go now but you'd like it if he came with you. Get dressed. Pull your hair back in a ponytail. Smile when you see that, instead of clothes, your husband is packing books and music.
Walk to the car. Feel the sun on your face. Look out from the driver’s side window as your husband pulls the shades and locks up. Wait as he stomps out the last of the fire on your lawn, tilts his head at the charred remains of white cotton fabric, tosses his bag in the footwell of the back seat. Thank him when he hands you a pair of sunglasses.
Watch as he puts both hands on the car roof directly over your window and asks what he should do next. Tell him