Jackson has put an axe halfway through his father’s skull.
He doesn’t know that there are four identical cracks in the four identical propane tanks under the sink downstairs. He is going to light a match in four minutes, once he goes downstairs. But for now he’s going to sit at the foot of his father’s bed and stare into the mirror. Jackson’s father’s dead body watches the TV that has been muted. The weatherman silently forecasts a blizzard.
There is nothing very unreal about those four cracks in the propane tanks. The cracks were not put there intentionally, and it is merely a coincidence that Jackson’s father purchased the four tanks the day before his death. It is also coincidental that those four tanks all slipped by inspection with those cracks in them. It is not coincidence, however, that they will explode when they explode. That is meant to happen, because it is Jackson’s time to die. Do not ask why he is meant to die tonight of all nights, there is no way to know. But no one dies before they are meant to.
The propane tank inspector’s name was Ellen Hillford. She has been an inspector of propane tanks in Oley Valley, Pennsylvania since she graduated from high school. She has never missed a tank until six weeks ago, when her best friend Lita announced that she was going to get married. Lita was also an inspector of propane tanks. She shared her workspace with Ellen Hillford, but she was not as good at the job. Lita had missed seventeen separate instances of unsafe propane tanks, allowing them to glide by on the belt into the station adjacent to their office. None of those seventeen propane tanks ended in death, though one did cause a flare that singed off the eyebrows of a retired veteran in Blue Springs, Florida.
Lita flickered her fingers in front of Ellen, causing the small golden ring to glimmer in the florescent light of the propane tank inspection office. Both women were shrieking while keeping their eyes on the propane tanks that rolled in. They tipped the tanks, shrieked about the ring, rolled the tanks, turned them on their ends, saw every inch. Lita was able to keep her eyes on her work while she chatted about the proposal in the employee parking lot. “I’m really in love with him,” she said. And that comment made Ellen’s eyes blur, and she lost herself in the words. Ellen was secretly in love with Lita. She was so afraid of being in love with Lita that she wasn’t even aware that what she felt for Lita was love.
It was this love for Lita, this one faltering, that made Ellen miss the four identical cracks in the four identical propane tanks that were then loaded onto a truck and driven to White Plains, NY, where Jackson’s father picked them up at The Home Depot. He also visited the woodworking section of the hardware store and bought an axe that was later buried in his head by Jackson, his only son. It was Jackson’s father’s time to die.
Jackson walks down the brown carpeted-stairway toward the kitchen. Hanging on the wall that runs alongside the stairs are portraits of Jackson in front of dark blue backgrounds. They date back to when he was in elementary school. The portraits watch as Jackson descends the stairs covered in splatters of blood. Jackson is hungry so he strikes a blue-tipped match on the edge of the stove to light the gas. He has a stuffed up nose, always has, so he can’t smell the bitter scent of propane gas.
Everything that was Jackson’s house was pushed out from the kitchen in an orange and black orb. Jackson flew up into a million pieces, as did his father, who was already dead anyway. The axe, surprisingly, was dislodged from Jackson’s father’s head in one piece, and it went sailing out into the air, end over end, just as the first snowflakes began to fall.