On Fire

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She says four cars burned last night–“you can’t imagine the front, there is nothing here”–and I can’t help think of my mother’s leg leaping on fire, how orange spreads up ravine slopes when the air is dry and no one is at home to douse it with water.

*

He walks me through the five floors of the office complex. We are in Shinjuku. He has been instructed to show me all the fire exits and a rope ladder bundled that will extend to the street. I wonder if I would be the last to leave the scorch. But he speaks in a different language and I only understand the word “fire,” so I smile at being young and we walk to the roof and stare at the city for hours.

*

I’m checking crime reports for a city I might move to in America. When I hover my mouse over the icon of where a crime took place, it reads, “arson.” Another hover and it seems someone is starting fires in trashcans, parks, lighting houses on fire. I wonder if someone was sleeping in the house that burned or if they had a ladder, but it does not say. Maybe no one was home. Maybe they were asleep.

*

I want my child to sit in front of a fire, but not too close to be burned by fire. I want my child to see a bonfire, to hear crackles and simmers or even to throw a log on the fire so it burns longer–so it burns away the dark. We will sit there, just sit and be fire-watchers. But I don’t want to think of how fires destroy buildings or legs or faces or rooms without escape ladders.

*

He orders a microbrew and I order a Coke, because today I am driving and the wind has picked up. We are at a bar in a mall. There are booths to my left and one young man is covering his mouth, looking away. He is not eating the food that has been served to him. A man next to us is talking about the sea and about going to sea, working the sea and how many books he reads before he sleeps below deck in foreign lands drifting, afloat. I see why the young man is not eating his food. Across from him, his friend or a relative, another young man, has had his face almost completely burned off, melted, leaving but a fleshy pink sheen to where a nose or a forehead or a mouth should be. His whole face is a blur of smeared skin.

*

“If it wasn’t for the old man,” she tells me, “all the cars would have burned and maybe even the apartment building, too.” The old man, I think, the one who watches over the cars, who helps us park when the lot is full, who finds a space or makes a space for all the cars to park. He must have a family, too or knows how it feels to watch things burn.

*

But we are not prepared when fire happens and how could we be? Should a life be built around the possibility of what could happen and how should we keep these things in mind when in the end everything burns?

*

My child is growing and her warm hands hold mine tight. She has a strong grasp. And in my mind I am back in Shinjuku at the office when a fire hits. She is there, too, but although she is the youngest, she does not have to wait until the end to climb down the rope ladder, because ladders like this one were made for her. Yes, there is a ladder that will carry her safely to the ground and I will make sure that ladder does not break, even it means dipping my face in the flames or stamping out brush as it burns from orange down to black. I will be water. My arms must be water for her.

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