“I torched an orphanage one time,” she says. “None of the kids were harmed. We just stood outside and watched and laughed whilst the deep-red bright-yellow flames took the whole of that horrible place down to the ground.”
I don’t have anything to offer.
“When the constables arrived—after the fire brigade and the one unnecessary ambulance—everyone said it was me. The kids all bold and happy with the fact, you know? Proud that I had rescued them from everything that went on there. They thought the grown-ups would understand. Be grateful.”
A pause while she lights another cigarette. No matches. She just holds it between her fingers and the end sparks and catches just-so. If there’s a trick to it I don’t see how it’s done. Something chemical or…
“I was in jail by morning,” she’s saying. “And carted off to what they were already calling the ‘London Zoo’, day after that. Kind of a joke, weren’t it? We were the animals. The exhibits on show.”
I watch her silence for a while.
“I never saw a court,” she tells me. “Never saw any of them children again, did I?”
“So that’s my old sad story.” She looks straight at me. “What’s yours?”
What’s brought me here, she means. What’s the secret?
It’ll take me a while to decide how much to tell her.