It’s foggy this morning. Outside my window, wisps of fog stream past like smoke from a chimney. Wait… maybe it really is smoke. I get up to check. Nope, it’s fog. Relieved, I take another sip of coffee. And then I burst into tears.
A couple of months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens. The urgent wail came closer, then faded as it passed. I got out of bed and wandered through the house toward the bathroom as one does in the wee hours. But something was wrong. It took my sleep-addled brain a second to figure it out.
The kitchen wall was lit with a strange orange light. And it was flickering. I could hear a distant roaring sound. I turned around and looked out the window. Less than 100 feet away, the big fir tree on the edge of our yard was engulfed by flame!
My heart stopped for a moment before I realized the trees were not actually on fire. They were backlit by fire. On the street behind us, my backyard-neighbour’s house was a raging inferno. Totally engulfed.
“Fire! Kelly, wake up, there’s a fire!”
I called 9-1-1. They had already received the call. The emergency crew was already on site. More sirens came screaming in the distance.
Were we in danger? Did we need to leave? We were running on adrenaline, barely breathing. Everything was happening fast and slow at the same time.
Kelly opened the patio doors and stepped outside. I put on a jacket and followed. As soon as the door opened, we could hear the roar of the fire, so loud. It crackled and popped. We could hear the thrumming engine of the water truck, see great arcs of water shooting from the hoses.
We could also see that it wasn’t the house immediately below us. The house engulfed by fire was on the far side of it. Empty, its elderly owner had passed away less than a month previous.
We got dressed and walked down the street to join the huddle of neighbours watching the firefighters. The sky slowly lightened. Dawn came. The fire burned down, was drowned and washed away.
The next day it snowed.
It was as if Mother Nature wanted to cover all the ugly fright with a shroud. Take it away. Make it better.
Except you can’t cover up a fright like that.
Fight or flee? Huddle or bolt? This is the kind of fear that lives in the depths of your bowel and in the stem of your brain. It shares a very old room with fear of the dark and of falling from a great height and of unnamed monsters under the bed.
For weeks afterward, I got up two or three or four times every night…every single night to wander the house. Going from room to room, I’d look out all the windows, looking for the tell-tale flickering orange glow.
Several months have passed since that horrible awakening, and I’ve lost the worst of the urgency. I only check for fire once each night, now. I get up to use the bathroom as I have always done. But instead of going directly back to bed, I take a tour of the house, checking out the windows. And I always check before going to bed in the first place. I can’t help myself. A whiff of smoke sends my heart racing.
A week ago I woke up at 3am with a terrible sense of urgency. I’d dreamed of fire, of course. In my dream, Kelly was shouting. “Fire! There’s Fire!” His voice ringing in my ears, I got up. I checked all the windows. Nothing. I put my coat on, shoved my bare feet into boots and went outside. Nothing. I walked out the driveway and stood in the middle of the street. Nothing.
The hulk of my backyard-neighbour’s house is still there. Melting snow reveals charred beams, twisted metal, the blackened refrigerator.
And I’m here in my own house, like the rhinoceros racing by instinct to stomp out flames. Even when there aren’t any.