I watched heavy smoke spill into my backyard--my brand-new backyard--and knew I had no choice. It was time for drastic action.
I'd have to interrupt my mother.
"Mom," I said into the phone, as smoke rolled past my kitchen window. I craned to see its source, but a weathered fence blocked my view of the next yard.
"--and you'll be cramped in that old twin bed--" My mother's anxious voice eddied past like the smoke.
"Mom--" Another billow nosed through leafless bushes huddled against the fence, and brightness flickered through the slats.
"--once you've been married, you can't go back to--"
"Mom. I'm sorry, but I need to hang up. The man next door seems to be torching the neighborhood."
Earlier in the day, I'd seen one of my new neighbors unload a red gasoline can from his battered pick-up and head through his weedy yard. I'd been too busy double-checking my children, sending them off perfectly attired for their father's wedding, to wonder what he was up to. Now I wondered.
"That hillbilly?" My mother's voice rose a note. "Ned, Alison says that hillbilly neighbor of hers is burning the place down."
"I don't think there are hillbillies in Wisconsin, Mom." I could hear background grumbling on my mother's end of the line, one hundred miles away. Ash whirled high above the fence, higher than my rooftop. Out of control? The early April grass was green, but everything else was dry brown, and these yards backed onto a brushy nature preserve. It could all go up in a minute. "Look, I've got to--"
"Ned doesn't think he's a hillbilly either," reported my mother. "More like that Unabomber. He says check to see if he's just burning leaves or roasting a pig, though, before you call the fire department. You don't want to put the fellow's back up, the first week you move in."
Especially when he reminds you of the Unabomber. I looked for my jacket. I didn't feel like venturing from my safe little house, but unfortunately my stepfather's advice made sense.
"Tell Ned I'm heading over there now. Call you back." I hung up before my mother could protest, grabbed my jacket, and dodged to the front door through stacked moving boxes.
I hurried down my front walk, scanning the scene. A wide swath of weeds in the Unabomber's front yard had already burned to the ground. His house sat at the very end of our short dead-end street, slightly askew, as if it had wandered in from the country and carelessly flumped down. Which was probably backwards--it looked like a small farmhouse, overrun by the suburbs decades ago when the nature preserve behind us was still cow pasture.
The other houses, tidy middle-aged ranches and Cape Cods, clustered round the cul-de-sac as if having a pleasant coffee klatch. Too bad their yards were empty. No surging mob armed with questions and buckets. Nobody to casually ask what the story was with my next-door neighbor. And I didn't know these people well enough to ring doorbells and ask for backup.
In fact, everybody I did know in town--my ex-husband Jeff's family, former co-workers in the family business, our friends, our old neighbors, our kids--was at Jeff's wedding. My folks and brothers had gone back to my hometown up north, after helping me move in. My chest tightened. For the first time I could remember, I was completely on my own.
I slowed, considering. I could confront a big stranger single-handed. Or I could bother some other strangers, and look nervous and officious if this guy had his fire under control.
I headed for the Unabomber's house.
A haphazard flagstone path straggled through the charred stubble and past the front porch; I followed the tang of smoke and the hiss of flames to the back yard. Chances were, he wasn't as alarming as he looked. He might appreciate a helping hand. He might even have a perfectly rational reason for setting his lawn on fire.
I rounded the corner of the garage.
My tall raw-boned neighbor (consider saying "the Unabomber") leaned on a spade, watching flames lick out from a wide black patch dusted with skeletal ash. The smoke was gauzy now, but the air trembled with heat, and as the fire reached a stand of waist-high weeds, it poured up the tough stems, drenching them in flame. My eyes stung as I drew near. I coughed.
The man turned.
I'd probably read the full five pages, but this is a slow start. You've taken 750 words -3 pages- to set a fire and get us almost to the plot. I think a ruthless paring of the backstory and set up is in order. I also don't get a sense of a distinctive and compelling voice here. Cozies need that. It's really really hard to have much new in the plot department for a cozy, which makes voice all that more important.