Cal, Lenora, and I had a good soup, salad, and sandwich dinner, then Cal went off to Ryan’s for a drink and I climbed into my favorite baggy nightgown and robe. All I wanted to do was curl up quietly and warmly with a book. Home, comfort, peace and quiet.
From out in back I heard some very excited yells and shouts. I bounded out of bed to see the back of the house next door burst into flames.
I yelled at Lenora to dial the operator then I remember saying imperiously into the phone, “Give me the fire department.”
Lenora was dressed, and she began unplugging things while I slowed down my excited speech so I could give adequate instructions about cross streets and things like that…then the house next door exploded. There was a sharp crackling sound followed by a big whumph. Lenora ran out the door. I reached back for my cigarettes, and then I dashed out past the flames, down the drive, and across the street right behind her.
Only then, standing at the curb with the whole of the fire in front of me, did I become hysterical.
“My house, my house,” was all I could say, over and over again as the tears ran down my face.
I was shaking like a leaf. Some semblance of sense must have remained in my brain, for as the shooting spouts of flame began licking at the corner of the cottage, I yelled for help.
“There is a hose in my backyard. Spray my house!”
Three men grabbed my hose and watered down the house. I was still hysterical, and I thought that the gray stuff rising from my house was smoke, but it was just steam. Soon I calmed down enough to sound more rational although I was still making funny groaning sounds every time Lenora asked if I were OK.
It only took the fire department about four minutes to arrive, but it seemed forever to the waiting crowd. Someone had told them the wrong block number, so they were delayed. Two separate engine companies arrived at the same time. Four rigs and a multitude of police cars blocked the corners of the streets. I began calming down as the background sounds of roaring pumpers, radios, and firefighters yelling filled the air. All sorts of friends arrived and were glad to see that it was not my house that burned. Dorothy gripped my arm so hard I thought it would break. Because everything was so confused, it took me a little while to realize Dorothy was drunk as well as frightened for the two of us.
At last, when the flames were extinguished, I took a moment to run into the cottage and change into Levis and a jacket. Finally, my feet were incased in shoes though dry feet didn’t last long. Almost immediately, I stepped into a puddle and had to change them again. As the evening wore on, Lenora and I were the middle of a constantly changing group of figures. We followed two policemen as they circled around the backs of our houses first hearing the word arson. We overheard that just across the street two plainclothesmen had been on stakeout and had seen the house go up. We watched the arson team work. We watched until we wore ourselves out. Still later, curled up on my bed, I called the fire department back when I saw the furniture out in the yard begin to smolder.
The thing that struck me most forcibly today was the contrast. As I stopped inside my front door and looked back over my shoulder into the house, the view was one of contentment, coziness, and warmth. Gay colors and the sounds of soft jazz filled the living room. At the end of the room the Christmas tree sparkled. Holiday cards all over the room reflected good will and love. Yet, just outside the front door was blackness and burned desolation. The smell of it was everywhere. Just a few feet and a fence separated these two worlds. It was a shock.
JR and I sorted photos at Cal’s house, and I found one of Jo taken in the early seventies. She was plump, healthy, and smiled happily out of the picture at me. Will I ever be able to go see her before she dies? I cannot go visit her with my constant cold. She cannot have any germs around her. I mourn her yet she isn’t dead.
5:30AM: Lessa just called From South Carolina. She is on her way to pick up the flowers for her wedding ceremony now. In some way, that makes it all more real to me. She is marrying her boyfriend.
“Tell grandmother I am wearing the pearls she gave me,” she said.
It all seems so tawdry somehow. Would I feel better about it if I liked Jock? She woke me up, and in my daze, all I could remember to say was don’t forget your deodorant and take care. Such inane words, and I forgot to say all the important things…like I love you.
Today I was able to visit Jo. We did not say, “How well you look” as we did last time for she does look far better than I thought she would, but not good. I cannot say, “Oh, how swollen your face, how thin your body, how tired, how lethargic, how yellow you look,” but she does and my heart is torn out with the pain of it. I had wanted to make it a short visit, but I stayed almost an hour. We looked at old photographs together, but I do not know what she was seeing. I had not meant to tire her.
I stood on the jetty howling out loud with laughter as the rain lashed, slashed, and drenched my every pore. The wind’s strength let me lean onto it, and I felt as if I were floating. The roaring sound of the wind drowned out the surf that was crashing at my feet. Black rushing clouds filled the sky. I tried to push on out to the jetty tip but found my face instantly in pain from the force of the rain. My shoes filled with water. I felt a rivulet run down into my gloves, and when I turned my back on the fury of the storm suddenly my sweat suit was wet to my body. If I could have danced in that wind, I would have. Never can I remember being so spontaneously exhilarated. Free for a moment.
Jo’s son calls. I cry through the news. Morphine doesn’t work any longer and they are trying methadone. The x-rays show all sorts of damage. The cancer is literally eating her away. Oh Jo. No more physical therapy. Little walking any more. Little life. No hope.