Smoke billowed out of the loft. Henry stood, holding the door open, waving the fumes into the hallway.
Andre ran down the hall towards Henry with a bucket of water. "Don't worry, Henry! It's almost out. Thank God nothing happened to your mother!"
Moments later, Henry called to Andre, "Why did you run all the way back to the kitchen for water? Why didn't you use the sink in the loft?"
"OMG! BECAUSE I AM A MORON!"
"What else is new?" Shakespeare snapped.
"WHERE DID HE COME FROM? Oh, never mind," Andre cried and then he ran past Henry and Shakespeare into the main room of the loft. He poured the water over the hay which always stretched across the floor. But no one could figure out how the hay caught on fire. Clarissa, of course, didn't smoke. There was nothing flammable nearby. There were only questions.
Andre tossed the bucket on the floor and cried, "Okay, it's out, Henry!" when he heard a booming voice buzz, "We can see that, Andre!"
He looked above and saw the giant creature towering over him. He smiled, waved and said, "Yoo hoo, hello, Clarissa! Sorry, I did not see you. Imagine that? HA HA HA!"
Then he heard her buzz, "You may think that's funny, but I can assure you it's not, chef." Her black eyes jumped.
Andre, now shaking, quickly replied, "Oh dear, I am so so sorry, my dear Clarissa."
"Sorry my eye," She buzzed, "you're petrified."
"Can we get back to the fire, Mother?" Henry suddenly intervened, tugging on one of Clarissa's legs.
Her head drooped, "Oh what about it? Who cares? How dull. I want to talk about the important things, like my girth."
"Now there's an interesting topic, Mother." Henry sighed, "Never mind the mysterious fire."
"Henry," her neck plunged, causing her head to bob around like a car ornament, "you know what? Maybe I should just go have some more experimental treatments, see if they can make me small again! Would you like that, Henry? Then you'd all have to go and find real jobs."
An uncomfortable silence fell over the room like a lead balloon; even Shakespeare was at a loss for a quick retort. He slouched so close to the floor he almost blended into the remaining charred hay.
Suddenly, Maria came bursting into the loft wearing a smile big as the moon that seemed to be pressed against her face. "Good afternoon, my friends," she said and then she bowed before Clarissa. "My dear, lady, I am so relieved you were unharmed! I love you so much. I love you all!" Her smile grew even broader, and then she scrambled across the floor, peering down as if she had lost her wallet.
Clarissa buzz-snapped, "You okay, honey?"
Then Maria darted up. Her hands waved. Her bracelets jangled. "Oh yes yes yes everything is good! I am just making sure the fire is out," she said and then she turned around and ran out of the loft.
Shakespeare said, "She is a strange one."
"Yes," Andre said while he scratched his head, "She makes Diego almost look normal."
"Hey, watch it, Andre!" Henry said. He glared at Andre, and then he glared at Shakespeare in warning, and then he remembered Shakespeare was blind and he slapped his head.
Clarissa buzzed, "Are you okay, Henry? Now about Maria; she is very fragile so be careful with her. It looks like this incident has had a great impact on her. What I'm trying to say is she is a real nut job -- so be careful." Her head arched towards the skylight, "Why do all these things only happen to me? Why can't I ever have any peace in my life?"
Andre, feeling as if that were his cue said, "I know how you feel, Clarissa. I ask myself that particular question every day. It seems I was chosen to go through constant trials and tribulations, but there must be a reason behind it. There must. What can one say? One can one do, but go on?"
"I want to step on him. Can I please step on him, Henry?"
"Please do," Shakespeare snapped, when suddenly three firemen brandishing axes barreled into the loft.
The first fireman chopped the air with his ax and cried, "Don't worry, we have everything under control, right Charlie?"
"Right boss," the second fireman said, waving his ax around, too. Then the third fireman grumbled, "But I don't see no fire."
That's when Clarissa buzzed, lowering her head as low as she could, "That's because it is out, gentlemen."
The first fireman said, "There may be no fire, but there is a giant talking bug in this room." Then he held his ax high and charged towards Clarissa's legs.
Henry, seeing the man, leapt towards him, knocking the ax out of his hand. "Sir, that giant bug is my mother!"
The other two firemen started giggling, "His mother, did you hear that?"
At once Clarissa's head swept like a missile towards the skylight, and she buzzed loudly, "What is so funny, gentlemen?"
They shook, and the first one answered, "Nothing, lady, sorry."
"That's right," Henry said shaking his head, "so as you can see, everything is okay and you can go now."
"Well, not quite so fast," the third fireman said, removing his hat. "We still have to perform an investigation. Don't worry, we will get to the bottom of this."
Andre slapped his head and sighed, then Shakespeare slapped his head and sighed, then Henry slapped his head and sighed, and then Clarissa slapped her head and sighed, watching the three men huddle around the hay.
Suddenly, the second fireman darted for the floor, and he picked up a silver and turquoise lighter with an "M" engraved on it.
Andre slapped his head and stared, then Shakespeare slapped his head and stared, then Henry slapped his head and stared, and then Clarissa slapped her head and stared.
* * *
Meanwhile in Maria's office, the beagle furiously barked while she stood over it shouting. "I tried, I tried. I really tried."
The dog continued to bark. And Maria continued to stare at its mouth. "Okay, okay, my beagle, I will try harder. I promise. I promise."
Diego, walking through the hallway just at that moment, heard the commotion, stared at the office door and began to knock.