Monday, August 22, 2005

Caution: My street is highly flammable

I want to clean my glasses again. There's something in the air, I can't place it, like someone dropped a box of face powder and it's still hanging there. I take off my glasses, rub them with my shirt, and put them on again.

We hear sirens coming up the street, at first distant enough to ignore, but then Mr. Billy is at the window, watching the lights flashing in the fog, watching them go by our flat, up the street, and stop. Two firetrucks disappear in what I'm thinking might not be just fog, an ambulance pulls around right outside our window, to block off the street.

"Another one," we say, pulling on our shoes.

This one is smaller, we don't see flames jumping out, can't trace its progression from the blackening walls at the front of the building. If it wasn't for the smoke - we're breathing it in now and it's smoke - and the firetrucks, nothing would look out of place.

Neighbors gathering on the street. We shake our heads at each other, "Again," we say.

The hippie guy with the moustache and long curly hair and his family are carting musical instruments - nine, ten guitars - and cats in carriers across the street.

"D'you need any help?" Asks Billy.

Hippie's eyes are big, but he shakes his head. "It's a, I think it's just a small, a small fire this time," tottering past, a cat carrier in each hand.

Pretty neighbor with the glittering diamond in her nose asks whose place it is.

"D'you know Rick, the guy with the -?" neighbor gestures in the region of his head.

"-the hair and moustache, yeah," the girl nods, recognizing the description of the hippie, "it's his place...?"

We look quietly at the firemen filing up the ladder, dropping through a newly-cut hole in the roof, appearing in the apartment window. It's another of those aggregate facade buildings.

"It's too bad" doesn't cover it, doesn't get to the nut of what we're feeling, looking, shamefacedly amused at the coincidence, at how it's only for a fire that we come out of our houses, expose our faces to one another. This one doesn't have that thrill of fear, of shooting flames, adventure! Glory! Heroism!

No, this one is just the quiet consumption of one family's structure, of the things they use to tell about and propel their lives. Their books and clothes and pictures of Sandy when she was four at her cousin's birthday party, Do you remember? - their recipes and plants and baby drawings and outdated calendars and tax forms from four years ago and I wonder what ever happened to that cute little skirt you used to wear? -and from now on everything will be changed because of the Fire back in 2005. Do you remember that? We lost everything.

Mr. Billy and I walk back down the street, into our own flat, vowing to move the cat carriers someplace more accessible, thinking again, What would I save? and in the dark, our living room blinks blue, then red from the whirling lights outside our window.

2 comments:

Daniel Heath said...

remind me never to buy a pad on your block...

and let this be a reminder, also, to keep off-site backups. now if only we could keep off-site backups of ourselves.

"yeah, it was a nasty accident all right. three people needed a full restore, lost a week's worth of work..."

azuremonkey said...

Do you remember that? We lost everything.

That's the worst part, the part that haunts. You force yourself to clean, to put everything right again, but there's a hole and that hole (for some) never fills.

My mom bought a bracelet on one of her business trips and said it was for me. But she would wear it - for safe-keeping - until I was ready for it. I wasn't until she passed on and I inherited it. Even then I didn't wear it much, just put it on for special occasions, when people would notice and talk about her.

We had a break-in couple years later and I didn't (mostly) mind the loss of the diamond or several other pieces from my mom, but the bastards took the bracelet, even though it wasn't much of anything, not to anyone but me anyway.

I still picture it my head and think about putting it on for family portraits or whatnot. I'll root through my jewelry box, wonder where I misplaced it and then remember. And it's the pain of loss all over again.