An accidental remembering

I walked past the house again last night.

I hadn’t meant to. But walking a friend’s dog as evening settled into dusk, making one turn and then another in a long loop, I turned onto Grandview Avenue and realized where I was.

The dog tugged at her leash and I didn’t linger, just passed right by, walking right over where I saw his form lying six months ago.

New plywood has been hammered over the ground floor windows and doors, but a perfect wreath still hangs on the porch wall, between two plywood covers.

The upstairs windows are boarded over too, but on the inside. The glass windows are broken, jagged edges sharp like teeth, from when the water shot through.

But the only place that shows signs of burning is the side of the house, near the hedge of pine trees, where an electric pole is charred and siding melted down.

I watched it burn, six months ago. I stood across the road, watching flames shoot out the windows and out the roof, watching firefighters break glass and cut holes in shingles, trying to find the flames, put them out.

I watched a woman squat down near the brown tarp, lift a corner, stand up and shake her head. Later the coroner took the body away, and I watched.

Minutes later the call came through the scanner in the police car near me: coroner to the hospital, please. They’d pulled her from the burning home, collapsed at the foot of the stairs just inside the front door, tried to bring her back. She hadn’t made it for the short drive to the hospital.

It was three days before Christmas.

And my feel slowly turned numb and my teeth chattered and the water running down the gutters turned into a sheet of ice at the intersection below. I picked my way carefully through snow drifts and over water lines, struggling in heeled boots that weren’t insulated against the winter weather, hurrying back to the car, to the warmth, to string together the few facts I knew.

Later I’d learn that the mailman making his deliveries saw the smoke, realized it was his parents’ home.

It looked so different last night. Quiet, calm. The grass was emerald green and most of the siding white and clean.

But empty, abandoned, with fresh plywood over the windows and a wreath with a blue ribbon still hanging.

The dog tugged hard and I hurried on.

I hadn’t thought about that day, about them, since I called their friends and family in the days after the fire.

I’m thinking about them now.


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