Thursday, October 29, 2009

You'll have to leave.


I could only suspect this storm was a gift. And so gifted was the burning sea of lost goods and services before me that I stood there with every bit of molten steel and fixtures speckled with light, bounced off my poor fucking retinas like the frenetic pulsating show from a disco ball. It was good to know that the strongest do not survive. Look at this place. It would not survive. It made me feel a lot less small in the grand context of the rest of the neighborhood.

What about the families of people in this building? Those gorgeous wrecks were next. They'd become shells. Former families.

Whoever set this fire, whether they’d done it knowingly or if it had been an accident, it didn’t matter at this point. Look at this place. Nothing could help this place survive. It could only be put out of its misery. Think of how much money it was going to take to fix this. People were probably dying here in the market right now. If this was an accident, then this was what horror really was.

But I couldn’t hear any screaming.

I could just barely contain the confusion it caused in me that it was so quiet here. The fire storm was loud, I guess. But in the absence of screams it was almost like a muted television in here.

Waves of orange light rose in crescendos, fell to this ember empire. Among the piles of rubble and burning trash, therein I discovered a small stone box I could not have figured would have been a product here. It must have fallen from the rubble, been trapped once between floors or in a wall and now freed. Affixed to the back of the lid were rusted, ancient, now unfortunately charred steel hinges, and at the front, a tiny padlock, the kind a schoolkid might have to keep his/her diary sealed from the world. It was a wonderful sight, but a poor one. Because it was beautiful, because it was ugly which made it beautiful in this end of the day wreck. Even before the fire burned it, who would have bought this? It was just so different. If it was not so impossible to cry in this heat and this chaos, I would cry.

But there was everything in here, and in the face of everything, one did not back down and just cry. Providence and precious pain had met and become golden here in the fiery building. So many words to say and not enough time to say or even think them if somebody wanted to get out without burning to death.

The stone box was hot and the steel hinges were unbearable, but the tiny lock, it was just gifted metal to not have become hot liquid right away. Simply done, with hardly a threat minded, it was no match for the rubble upon which I bashed it open. The lock flew off into the smoke in pieces and disappeared.

As the sleeves of my shirt caught fire and were simultaneously put down by the streams of water coming through from burst pipes poking up from out of the grounds, I was momentarily lost in a haze of damp smoke that filled up the capacities of my mouth and blinded me in the poor eyes. But with the blackened, flesh-fused sleeves of my wet arm I wiped the smoke out of my eyes, and I spit out fistfuls of heavy ash and smoke, heaving, gasping, and focused once more—completely—on the small stone box.

Now free and pried open, I pulled the lid up, and inside the box was a tiny, filthy fist-sized plush koala bear with wooden button eyes and scattered tufts of springy, stormcloud-colored dirty stuffing coming from the side of its miniature tummy. With the burnt tip of my printless index finger I pushed the body stuffing back inside the belly, then closed the wooden box and made a run for it before the entire dying building could give up and rain down upon me in huge monuments of steel and floor tiles.

Within minutes the shopping center was a quarter of a mile behind me.

Your friend,

Friday, October 9, 2009

Windswept front yard.


I started to realize how unclean the neighborhood looked only when faced with the opportunity to leave it behind forever.

Before the sirens could be heard a mile off, before they got close enough where you could make out the squeal of rubber tires on the boiling summer asphalt, and before the better part of the neighborhood had all showed up to watch this happening, I stood there alone in the drive port without shoes on, glancing nervously across the yard and up the street and then up at the house—my house—shivering like a dirty little weed in the breeze. Still holding a worn out Number 2 pencil. Paper pages blew across the lawn, sticking against trees like bulletins. My feet itched on the gravel and glass of the driveway cement.

I looked underneath my feet; the soiled shadow soaked into the skin there was not just from the cement and dirt and dust from outside, it was from walking barefoot on the carpet in the house all morning.

Everything was a mess.

When the house first started to collapse, I was the closest to the front door, sitting on the sofa doing summer school homework. The numbers on the page in front of me were crawling around each other, pressing up against each other and doing somersaults. Sixes pretended to be nines; the pages laughed at me, and word problems spoke little conundrums that aimed to confound me.

I could practically hear the Music-teacher-filling-in-as-Geometry-teacher-for-a-summer-job failing me, and doing it with pride.

In the middle of a problem I could not get past but was half there to giving up on it entirely, the whole house squealed and then seemed to moan like a thousand hurt dogs, and I looked up from my homework to see the living room was now filled in with rafters and clouds of plaster dust, and from inside all of that I heard one of my sisters crying in the rubble. And so I ran out of the house, coughing, feeling good that I made the right choice, that I solved this problem in real life when the shocking decisiveness of the words in the summer course manual only looked like age-old mysteries nobody needed to bother about.

Whatever happened in there, I got out before it happened to me. If the A stood for this, and the B stood for that, the C it equaled was safety.

As a mathematic equation, this held little to no reality. But the summer course book was inside, after all, so what did it matter? Under heaps of plaster dust. Under the bones of my sisters and the neighbors.

And those guys . . . a couple wide-shouldered, perfect-faced neighbors from across the street had come outside almost instantly because I guess it was so loud you could hear it everywhere. Total impressive-faced heroes, they’d dropped their beer cans and ran inside to try to get my sisters out, but they haven't come back out yet and more of the house has since collapsed.

The whole house looked like a failed sandpit fort. Or a broken tree house in the woods grown over with the dust clouds of its passing.

Pretty soon the whole block will be filled with people and fire engines. Police cars will turn the wide front lawn into a frantic, brightly lit parking lot. Eventually I'll be pulled out into the street to make way for a wrecker or something. Someone will put a blanket over my shoulders when the sun starts to set. Maybe Mandy will come from down the street and hang out with me. It’s a Sunday night; she’ll be just out of Youth Group soon.

I might never have to do homework again. Or see this town again. If my parents are dead in there I could be shipped off to my aunt’s place in Harlen. With nobody to take care of me here, this homework scattered across the ebbing afternoon sunlight of the lawn will become obsolete.

Inside the house, there's still screaming, but it sounds so far away.