The night of the fire I couldn’t fall asleep so slid into a kimono and settled myself on the couch with my book. I was reading for a while and had just raided the fridge for a tasty bite of leftover sausage and settled back into my nest, back to my story. Then I heard a large truck pull up in front of the house. It didn’t move, and I turned to see red lights flashing in through that middle part of the curtains that seems to only close all the way half the time. I got up and pulled them aside. A fire truck was in front of our house and the one next door, and our neighbor was standing in her robe in her driveway lit by the truck’s flood lights, hand to her mouth facing towards her house. I ran outside.
A smell of burning plastic assaulted me as I flew over the lawn in my bare feet. Once I got to J I could see smoke silhouetted against the black sky. I took her in my arms and asked if she was okay. Once she confirmed she was I asked her firmly where T was, and she nodded toward the driveway saying “There.” Relief flooded through me as he came towards us, in nothing but a pair of loose shorts, his bare chest looking so soft and vulnerable next to the half-a dozen fire fighters fully geared up around him. He joined us, and somehow I grew twice my size and enveloped them in a big mama bear hug of safety, murmuring over and over to them that they were okay, while at the back of my mind I was embarrassed that I had sausage breath. My next thought was that I had to get a robe for T.
This was a week ago, and there’s been a fire restoration truck there for a few days now, slowly hauling our friends’ heavily smoke-damaged lives out bits at a time. Incredibly frightening what built-up lint in the dryer hose can do. They were not injured, the house is still standing (though unlivable for at least a month, most likely longer) they have each other – they’re getting married next week; the wedding dress was thankfully at her mom's – but they’re left in a daze of “what ifs.”
The blinds were untouched for a week, and became my obsession. I would make up reasons to walk past our window so I could look at them. They hung there, partly intact, partly drooping in a plastic palsied frown; a grotesque reminder of the biggest “what if…” What if they hadn’t woken up?
If I were an artist, I would take charcoal from the charred floorboard that was beneath the dryer that now sits alongside the washer, both burnt-out hulks of sadness in the backyard. On a white wall I would sketch a living room, with family photos, books, a couch with that special pillow that was finally just right for taking a nap. Then I would blow the black dust from my hands over the scene, draw a window over it, and hang those melted blinds over it all. You would smell smoke and plastic, and you would be able to feel the horror of “what if.”