He was laying under a brown tarp, a formless shape that wouldn’t have looked human if I didn’t know, if I hadn’t watched the ambulance worker lift a corner, check something, walk away shaking her head.
Smoke still poured out of broken windows, swirling around the evergreen hedge and rising gray against a gray sky. Flames curled out of the second floor, then the smoke turned black and a jet of water shot out, hit a neighboring house.
Neighbors stood in clusters in front yards, watching firetrucks line up on the narrow street and water pour down the gutters, out to freeze somewhere else into a sheet of ice.
Glass shattered from inside; they were breaking windows in there, taking a chain saw to the roof, demolishing the already destroyed home to find any pocket of fire still burning.
And all that time he lay there on that cold and frozen ground, orange emergency cones around him. A firefighter squatted down on a corner of the tarp while his partner changed his oxygen tank. Men came and went around him.
And when the coroner came they gave him the only dignity they could, holding that brown tarp high between him and those standing around while they lifted his body onto the stretcher, wrapped round and round in a smaller tarp so that we couldn’t see his face, and took him away.
And she – the woman they’d pulled out still with hope, who they surrounded there on the porch of the burning house to try to force life back into her lungs before wheeling her to the ambulance, rushing her away to the wailing of sirens – the coroner was coming for her next.
It’s three days ’till Christmas.
And there is still snow on the ground in front of the little white frame house with the broken windows and the door torn off its hinges and the smoke pouring out the gaping hole in the roof.
And all around families are finishing their shopping and wrapped packages are mounting up under trees and Christmas carols mix with The Salvation Army’s bells outside the grocery store. Children are counting the days and hours.
And the contrast is so stark, so strange, like the glow of the flames off the snow on the ground and the brown of the tarp against the neon orange construction cones.
And death and tragedies come everyday and it doesn’t make it better if it’s some other month but it’s the contrast that makes you see it even more, like a dark silhouette framed by a dying sun.
And it’s just three days ’till Christmas.