cleaning products and dirty plungers and mystery aerosol cans until my hand strikes the extinguisher and rips it out, scattering highly flammable aerosol spray cans across the kitchen floor. I sprint back to the bathroom, where the memory pile is ablaze, and I pull every lever, shake the canister hard, squeeze the handle, and nothing. No water or chemical foam or anything comes out. I just throw the fire extinguisher at the fire and run around the house looking for Mrs. Biggles, who I almost catch, but she darts under the bed.
I find my cell phone and dial 9-1-1, hands shaking, unsure if I should be inside or outside making this call. When the operator asks me what my emergency is, I tell her my bathtub is on fire and with the briefest of pauses she says, âGet out of the house, responders are on the way.â
I drop the phone and run barefoot down the stairs and outside into the snow, where it takes me two seconds to realize that my feet are in a great amount of pain and I donât have the cat. I charge back upstairs, hoping my bravery is notedin tomorrowâs papers, which will chronicle the tragedy. She wouldnât leave without Mrs. Biggles. Thatâs just the way she was. Selfless to the end. âPlease!â I yell at Mrs. Biggles, whoâs still hiding under the bed. My voice is trembling. âPlease come out!â
I can see my motherâs face now when she hears I died trying to save the cat. Itâs an expression of grim acceptance as she calls the Scandinavian funeral home and requests an all-you-can-eat ham sandwich buffet.
I decide now is not the time for manners and start chucking shoes under the bed until she scrambles out the other side and I chase her to the kitchen and out the back door. Now I only have moments to live and I must decide what I should save of all my earthly belongings. Do I grab my vinyl records? My plaster replica of Princess Dianaâs wedding cake? My illustrated medical anomalies book? Iâd love to get sentimental, but the choice is ultimately easy. I grab my laptop and my prescription bottle of Lunesta. With these items, a new world can be forged.
In the stairwell I remember I also have neighbors downstairs. âThere might be trouble!â I say/shout loudly while knocking urgently on their back door. Urgently but not too urgently, because, I donât know, it seems rude. Thereâs no answer, which could mean theyâre not home or sound asleep, about to be consumed in the fire. That I do not want to read about. I can hear the sirens coming, but I know every second counts. I pick up a brick from the loose edging around the dead flower bed and am just about to hurl it through their window when the loud cherry-lit fire trucks of Minneapolis Station 109 scream into our driveway.
The whole backyard lights up with churning red lights, and firefighters charge toward the house. I think it would be beyondsexy to be married to a firefighter. Imagine him storming out into the night to save women and children from disasters and rescue kitty cats from trees. Then thereâs a stern-faced fireman staring at me, wearing a big black and yellow helmet and clenching his square jaw with a perfect action-adventure amount of five-oâclock shadow.
I smile sheepishly.
âAre there people in there?â he asks.
I shrug and he kicks the neighborâs door down. Iâm serious. He just hauls back and with one stomp beneath the brass doorknob he wrenches the door open, splintering bits of the doorjamb and smacking into the refrigerator.
âGet to the truck,â he says with a heady blend of concern, protection, and leadership. Then he storms the apartment.
God, I love firemen.
Which is why I really wish I hadnât started the fire.
After two hours of firemen stomping up and down stairs, and me calling my mother to tell her I had a fire, but I was fine, Lt. Herbach comes back to the truck where I wait with a blanket around me, next to
Jeff Struecker, Alton Gansky
Janwillem van de Wetering