I have many stories around the themes of fire and smoke. The fears of being burned or catching fire; the costs to items and to lives; the lingering smells of fire damage. Memories can return with the strike of a match.
The master bedroom sits at the end of a long, carpeted hallway. The door is always left wide open, except for bedtime. One has direct sight into the room. In front of a window, a standing bust is situated between the foot of the bed and the closets. Draped on this headless mannequin is an off-white, vintage Victorian wedding dress. Close inspection reveals exquisite lace work, intricate layering, and detailed pearl beading around the neck and down the arms. It feels both fragile and a testament to time when any touch it. The dress takes on a life of its own and moves like a slow dance as backlight from the window cast down shadows throughout the day. Dusk is especially dreamy when the lacey form takes on an ethereal, ghostlike quality. If she were alive, this would be the moment she starts floating towards you, while you stand frozen at the end of the hall, holding your breath.
To walk down the hallway or pass through to adjoining rooms is to have a sense of always being watched. Very startling for new guests. Why was she displayed just so? To always be seen, like art. She was a totem to a past era and lifestyle. She was also a steady reminder of a possible future experience.
The mother of this apartment had gone to work like any other day. The daughter had gone to school. A friendly male neighbor, with keys to the place, thought it a good idea to prep a portion of dinner at this apartment. No idea why this seemed better than using his own kitchen. Maybe the prospect of her coming back to delicious smells of a home cooked meal seemed considerate and romantic. Either way, he used her kitchen as the place to boil a pot of beans -the from scratch, low and slow, simmering kind, which one starts at the beginning of the day. The kind that requires little tending to, but not full-on neglect. The neighbor went back to his apartment and fell asleep. For hours. Cooking forgotten about. For hours. Until the sounds of sirens, then multiple firetruck sirens, roused him.
The fire pushed through the shared kitchen wall to the adjoining neighbor. It came out of the kitchen, up through the dining room, into the living room, and began to wane by the time it reached the hallway. In the living room, there was a fireplace with a comically large, one-foot by one-foot glass whiskey snifter filled with a twenty-plus years collection of matchbooks from various restaurants, bars, and clubs. To imagine what ignition occurred when the blaze found this co-conspirator is to picture a mini fire show of July 4th proportion. Everything in these rooms was ruined. If not by the fire, then by the eventual saturation from the firehoses. A wave of fire from one direction. A cascade of water from the other.
Before the firemen arrived, it managed to go through the floor, to the first-floor neighbor’s apartment too. The bedroom with the wide-open door wasn’t burned out but everything was covered by black residue from smoke damage. The Victorian wedding dress was completely ruined. It looked like it had been worn through a coal mine. Nothing behind the other bedroom got burned or discolored or hosed down, because the door had been closed. But nothing was salvageable. The smell of smoke permeates and lingers. After how many washes? It never went away. After how much teasing? Absolutely everything had to be thrown out.
To be the bearer of bad news is one thing. To be the cause of such destruction and despair is an entirely other thing. To stand outside in the parking lot with all the gathered neighbors, agape at what had occurred. Knowing it was your place that started the fire ruining their homes and belongings was a shame the size of a brick one couldn’t swallow. Just bury yourself, why don’t you. To never get the chance to wear a dress was the least of it.
This random catastrophe turned the Victorian wedding dress into one of many casualties. An opportunity lost. I have never been able to remember that motherfucker’s name. Selective memory can be good for cutting away deadweight.