The next morning, in sway of some unconscious nocturnal imperative, Maurice decided the situation was ridiculous and had gone far enough. Too far. There was a simple solution. He would go to a big box store and buy some cheap but sturdy fencing and cordon off the violas.
At the big box store he found some fencing that was sturdy and cheap-looking but not cheap. He bought it. When he got home he discovered a discarded Christmas tree lying across his violas. Maurice thought of Christmas like he thought of dogs; a good idea which had gotten out of hand. He dragged it to the side.
During the installation of his fence, the sideways tree occupied his mind. No matter how hard he tried to suppress it, one thought kept coming back in the form of a question: was it a hostile act, or merely an inconsiderate one? If hostile, any number of neighbors were suspects…half, maybe even as many as two-thirds…he tried again to suppress the thought.
Some time in the night that tree and another at the end of the block were set aflame. Black smoke from the charred remains greeted the rising sun. Some neighbors couldn’t help but wonder if the burning was related to Maurice’s opposition to dogs. That theory overlooked the fact that the other fire was next to an empty storefront. Everyone was grateful that no one was injured, and the fires hadn’t spread.
The following night some other trees were set on fire; there were different accounts as to the number. Rumors of origin bubbled up and burst in puffs of noxious gas. It was the work of an arsonist, a tree-hugger, a religious fundamentalist, a high school loiterer. Everything was plausible; a Petri dish for paranoia. Even Eric and Jane were affected. They cancelled the upcoming meeting. Jane had changed her mind about the broken planter. She was having it rebuilt, with reinforcing steel. She had heard a story of a car sent rolling down a street in Bernal Heights intentionally. She wasn’t crazy enough to think that was what had happened; the brakes had failed, but if it could happen once—you had to be safe.