“Light it,” the whisper quaked as she dragged the backs of her fingers through the tear-streaked rouge marring her cheeks. “Light it, Phineas!”
The match pinned between Phineas’ thumb and forefinger remained uncertainly poised against the rough grain of the box edge. “We’re in the middle of the city, Grace, I–”
“For the love of God, Phin, please!” Her demand fell more desperate, laced with a sob as the woman turned away from the towering whore house she had once called home. The darkened windows stared down at her like reaper with a toothless smile, mocking her—her stomach churned and she pressed lace-gloved fingers to her lips as she waited for the wave of nausea to subside.
The epidemic had claimed her sisters, beautiful girls, filthy by societal standards—though not a one of them would have hesitated in giving her their last bank note if she needed it. The doctors surpassed them. The townspeople shunned them. They were allowed to die, not through the fever that swept through Dakai City, but through simple inhumanity.
Grace had loved, cried with, and laughed with them. She had been through the hardest of times with the very same girls who were now corpses, covered by soiled sheets out of modesty and respect, with no good, church-side cemetery that would take them.
Phineas laid a hand on Grace’s shoulder, his fingers, covered in coal dust from the train yard, left a smudge on the ruffle of her dress sleeve. He repositioned the match against the edge of the box, and struck it, a spark exploding and engulfing the tip of the small matchstick in a bright yellow glow. Slowly, he approached the brothel steps, and held the flame above them.
“Are you absolutely certain, Grace? We can think of som–”
Grace whirled around and sobbed. “Just drop it!”
Giving a stout nod, Phineas dropped the match into the puddle left by the shattered paraffin lamp and a tidal wave of flame erupted to cover all the kerosene had touched. He stepped back, an arm snaking around Grace as the last place she called home was gradually consumed by the flames.