By Charlie Fox
Stop, drop, and roll. You know the drill. When you were younger, there was a class field trip to the firehouse and the chief spoke. Most of the kids probably got distracted by the dalmatian; it’s understandable, after all, it just had puppies. Sometimes he would say something and you’d pay attention –
“…is the pumper truck, ours can pump about twenty gallons a second! The ladder truck is one of our most…”
–and then drift out again, looking at the shiny pole and wishing that you could be the one to be sliding down it, rushing out to save the day in your big red hat and –
“Stop daydreaming! Listen to the chief, he took time out of his day to be here for you!”
“Now, how many of you have smoke alarms? If you don’t, go home and tell your parents they better get one! Did you know that a smoke detector can cut fire related deaths and injuries by over 50%? In America, someone dies in a house fire once every hundred twenty minutes, that’s–”
A hundred and twenty minutes. Two hours. For the rest of the day, you glanced nervously at the clock. You sat anxiously for the booming tick of the hand, but it’s the kind that turns fluidly, stealing the seconds you are waiting for and before you know it, it’d been two hours and you started to cry. The next day you forgot about it, and the next day after that, years go by until your two hours are up.
120 minutes go by with no fire, and someone’s gotta fill the quota. It’s only fair. It doesn’t matter how it starts, some faulty wiring or a match thrown away without thinking, but what’s done is done. There’s no escaping it now. After all, it’s been 2 hours and someone’s gotta burn.
It spreads, quickly. Jumping from curtain to curtain and flashing through newspapers in the recycling. It races down carpets and finds fuel wherever it can. Piles of clothing ignite and some can– BAM –suddenly explodes. The bang knocks you off your feet and sends fire flying. It’s on the wallpaper now and everything is burning around you. You’re frozen. What can you do? It’s your turn.
In the next room, the ceiling collapses. Boards and bricks and furniture come crashing through. Flaming pieces of wood crash outwards, ricocheting off your desk where a year’s worth of work is curling in on itself. The doors are ablaze, there’s no where to hide, and it suddenly becomes peaceful.
The flames stop biting and start dancing around you. Embers float down like snowflakes and you see her. It was snowing and you could still hold her. Before it all went wrong. Standing under a white tree in some park somewhere with nobody but you two, her laughing too hard, and you loving her for it. The snow kept falling and landing on your neck.
An ember shocks you back to life. Into the present. You look around.
You listen. She’s out there waiting, crying for you. She wants to forget everything and try again. She’s willing to give you a second chance and love you again.
You’re on your feet, moving faster now. You run through a door, and the wood splinters around you. A beam falls down behind you but you don’t look back. You stumble into the living room, the door is burning and you trip. It’s gone, she’s gone. Everything is out there and you’re in here, roasting.
When you were first together, you couldn’t stop staring. The way a gust of wind would blow her hair all around and then stop and leave it floating for an instant. The way that late at night, right in the middle of a conversation, her voice would drop off and become exposed in a way that made you want to cry. The way that when she laughed, this little spot above her eyebrow would quiver and you couldn’t help but love her. As time went on, she stopped laughing as much, and you realized that the same spot quivered when she cried, and it broke your heart.
You crash forward. You grab a lamp and it burns you. The scalding metal sticks to your hand and you can’t let go. You hurl it at the window, and it shatters. Glass pours down and your bare feet start to bleed. You cough.
“Nearly 75% of fire related death come from smoke inhalation, so remember kids, stay low!”
You cough again, stumbling against the wall. Picture frames shatter around you, the fire bursts out of the dent you made. She’s out there, she’s waiting for you, and you’re lying on the floor sucking in lungfuls of smoke after smoke. There’s no oxygen in the room anymore, it’s been requisitioned for the flames engulfing your home.
Your head wilts and you’re with her again. It’s the next day, her birthday. Christmas lights twinkle from the storefronts and a layer of snow covers the rooftops. She’s dancing in the way that only a ballerina can, but she gave it up a long time ago and only kept the grace. She’s wearing the same dress she wore when you met. It’s white and it loses itself among the snow. You love her, why wait? You find yourself slowly dropping to one knee, she’s crying and smiling and nodding and –
Now. Go. Now.
You gasp in fresh oxygen, the roof has caved and the night sky is pouring in. The sound of a siren is screeching outside and you push yourself to your feet. You clamber to the window and shove your way through. The glass cuts you but you keep on pushing, dragging yourself through, tumbling out onto the grass below.
You look up. It’s a clear night and through the smoke you can see the stars. A fireman appears above you, dragging you away from the smoldering wreckage of your life.
You cough. Struggling for her name, trying to speak. Everything fades and you’re with her again.