The heat was intense. It felt like a stove heated higher than it was supposed to be. So hard to see through the smoke but he had to find her. He could hear the crying. The support for the house was falling. His radio was blaring “Get out of there!” He was close to the screaming which was fading into coughing and finally weak gasping and rasping — . smoke was going to overtake the girl — found her!
He grabbed her, running with the little 3yr old package like a running back and she was the football that he was determined not to fumble and to carry to the goal line. Which was just past the collapsing stairwell by the door. Flames all around — had to run — the door was already opened — he was out! She was safe!
The mother in tears. The father saying “Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou — !” and just as he was about to speak to the reporter his radio blared with news of another fire. This one was a barn just outside of his hometown of Driftwood, Pennsylvania.
Bolting upright. Of course it was a dream, but the scanner was actually bringing in news of the barn fire. He bolted out of bed to see his wife opening her eyes and something — lacy. “Honey you wore that special outfit last night? I didn’t notice-“
“No, no you didn’t.”
“Just save the farm animals!”
He heard himself mutter “sorry” as he left. No time right now for the painful conversation he knew he might have to have later.
In the kitchen there were donuts, he grabbed one, slipping on his fireproof overalls and jacket. Helmet was in one hand and jacket in the other. Bill got to the subcompact. He turned on his blue light. Before he finished backing out of his driveway, grape jelly oozed onto his t-shirt. He uttered a curse before recalling that he had given that up for Lent and then he cursed again. Then he apologized to God.
He expected that the firehouse would have at least one pumper gone before he arrived. No activity. He ran in yelling and disturbing everyone’s breakfast, “Tony, Gary, Charlie! Come on! Let’s go! Didn’t you hear that there is a fire near the Minute Mart?”
Tony and the rest seemed unconcerned. “Yeah, the barn fire, don’t worry, Kerrytown’s got it covered.”
“But this is our area! It’s practically in our backyard. We can get there way before they do.”
“We asked and they said we weren’t needed. Apparently, One of their guys lives almost next door and phoned that it was no big deal. The ground’s wet, the animals were evacuated and it was already contained. The only reason the farmer called it in was for insurance purposes.” Said Tony between bites of freshly fried hash browns.
“Still, we should be there. This is our town! And your there eating three @#$! cheese omelets and hash browns.”
Charlie, “Yup, you should try them.”
Gary, “‘Sides, which hose you gonna use to put it out, that one?” pointing to the wall, “or the other one”, making a motion to check his zipper.
“Oh.” Bill zipped his pants as laughter burst out in the firehouse. “Well I’m gonna go and at least investigate. Make sure it’s really no big deal.”
“Well do that, but make sure you lay off the jelly doughnuts or the Kerrytown guys will get jealous.” Bill was about to ask Gary what he meant until he looked at the livid purple stain on his shirt. He stomped out of the firehouse questioning himself and wondering if he really should just slack off like the rest of them, but he knew that he had to be there at that barn. There was a destiny that he had to meet there.
He drove to the barn, he found one small pumper there, five of Kerrytown’s bravest, a reporter taking notes quickly, no doubt hoping that his scanner or phone would get him out of this boring situation. A slightly charred corner of the barn was being hosed down at a slow trickle by one of the firefighters. Judging by the hoses another firefighter was making sure that the interior was safe. The county fire marshal was there. He was waiting the respectful amount of time so that he could appear to make a careful investigation and certify that the fire was an actual accident. He would make his determination at about 4 pm so that it looked like time was taken. In point of fact, he was sure that this was an accident, but it would appear sloppy to come back with a response before the fire was out. Appearances had to be maintained.
Bill went to Kerrytown’s chief and asked if there was any assistance needed. “Well, we missed breakfast, we could use some coffee and doughnuts from Minute Mart. Here’s a twenty.”
It irked him to be dismissed, but Bill took the twenty and delivered the goods. The hoses were being rolled-up, the reporter had left and everyone thanked him for picking such a fine assortment of doughnuts. No one had any need for him. Bill left. He came back home. William junior had already left for school and his wife was loading the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. Bill sat down and poured his cereal. “Hey Honey, you’re looking good.”
“Well then I shouldn’t tell you that I made reservations tomorrow for Begley’s”
Begley’s Tavern was a simple family establishment that didn’t require reservations or a coat or a tie, but their spaghetti and meatballs couldn’t be beat. Something about that sauce made the place a local favorite.
“Okay, Bill, no more cold shoulder.” A hug and everything was back to normal with the possibility of better-than-normal later. Bill busied himself with chores. Bill junior came home from school, “Hi, I’m at Jim’s house”, he projected his voice from the kitchen into the living room between bites of some cold pizza he found in the fridge. Junior rinsed his mouth with a gulp from a bottle of soda.
Linda called, “Be back for”, the door slammed shut, “dinner.”
At the dinner table Junior wore sunglasses. “What with the sunglasses?
“Well Dad, I’m just waiting for my eyes to adjust, been out in the sun and all.”
“Take ‘Ëœem off.”
“All right.” Junior tried to keep his face angled down towards the spaghetti so no one would see.
“Ouch. Nice shiner there, boy. Did you win?”
“What? Just want to know.”
Junior’s mother had a different question. “How did this happen?”
“Mom, James Smith called Dad ‘ËœFire Marshall Doughnuts’ so I punched him. He punched me back and by the way, Dad, the fight was broken up and we’ve been suspended.”
Bill senior asked, “How long?”
“Son, you know what this means.
“Yeah yeah, no TV”
“Daaad! You can’t sentence me to hard labor!”
“Kid, you don’t even know the meaning of the word.”
“I was winning — “
“Sorry honey — “
A few apologies later, Junior’s sister was put in charge and Bill and Linda were leaving for Begley’s the next night. Bill forgot how many years but he could do the math to figure it out based on the year written inside his wedding band. Linda didn’t quiz him.
Drinks were served, Bill was having beer and Linda was having some kind of a fruit drink ending in a “-tini”. It was either an apple-tini, or a banana-tini, or some such thing. The waitress came. “May I take your order?” Flames calmly crept up her towel after leaving the candle.
The flames caught on her sweater. The waitress and everyone else noticed. A scream. Bill leapt up and grabbed the tablecloth. He was going to smother the fire in a checkered tablecloth. But suddenly, he tripped. He came crashing down with a waitress and tablecloth. Thinking, “Not now, I have to save her!” Loss of consciousness.
Waking up. Smell of Lysol and ammonia. Stiff white sheets. His wife. “Hey honey.”
“You’re okay. You had a nasty bump. The doctors need to observe you tonight for a concussion.”
“Okay. How are you Hun.”?
“Oh! The waitress! Is she — ?”
“Fine, honey. Thanks to you. Being all brave and heroic. You saved her from getting hurt. I think it was really special the way you rolled so she didn’t hit the ground. You even broke her fall.”
“Honey, I fell — all that training — and I — .”
“Shhhh. You saved her you big lug and that’s all that I care about or care to remember. Get some rest.”