Our vigilance started to drain as one of the four firemen standing on the burning roof hacked out a fire break just ahead of the flames. The fire seemed to be advancing along the insulation at that point, so that stopped it in its tracks.
After a while we relaxed enough to venture outside and rejoin the living. My brother watched over the still-crated cat (hey, shit was still burning) so we could take in some blessedly cool fresh air on a street crammed with emergency vehicles, frightened tenants, and smartphone-clicking looky-loos. As the fire was further subdued, firemen began congregating on the green. What looked
like budding cross-department friendships were sealed as the guys shook hands among themselves. Soon after, a couple of local girls appeared in their midst, bearing foil-covered plates, short-shorts and selachian smiles. I’d never seen so many fire trucks in one place; between them, the EMS vehicles, the cops, and the Action News reporters, it was amazing you could see asphalt. We decided to take a walk around the block, beyond the closed-off ends of the street. In doing so, we ended up fielding a lot of questions from drivers as they were stopped and rerouted. Of course the main one was “What the hell happened?” (A lot of us are waiting on that answer.) On the return trip, we started thanking random firefighters, especially the extra-sooty ones. Each expression of gratitude was met with a solemn nod and a quiet smile.
Former tenants, that day and since then, have been by to gaze upon what could have been their loss: “Oh God, that’s my old bedroom window.” That can’t be fun to contemplate. I’d especially sympathize with the newest ex-tenants, if I knew them at all or where they’re staying. More than one household, not including the displaced families, has since moved on; we’ll eventually follow suit, for reasons unrelated to this fire. If we never share another wall in my lifetime, I’ll be ecstatic—this really put a cap on that sentiment. It’s one thing to know that apartment fires happen, but trust me, it changes your worldview when it happens thirty feet from your own adjoined backyard.
Thanks to those hardworking firefighters, all we ultimately sustained from this incident were cinder holes in the new canopy and a little smoke. Days later, I got mobbed by the ladies at one of my clubs who were dying to know juicy details about How I Survived The Fire!! It pissed them off that I wouldn’t spin it into a big swoony tale of near-death. (Drama- mongering horseshit like that is why I don’t leave the house more often.)
We go in more for humor around here, including the gallows-flavored variety. During a quiet moment in our vigil, I turned to my beloved and wished him a happy birthday for the second or third time that day. “Make a wish. And blow really, really hard…”