Tuesday, February 20, 2018


The phone rings. Unknown number. 1:18 a.m. Oh no.


“Is this Ron?”


“There’s been a fire. I’m sorry, but they’re all gone.” The voice is unfamiliar, steady.

“They’re gone?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. There’s nothing left.” And then the three beeps as the call disconnects.

I get up and sit on the couch. All gone? How can they be gone? My love. Our home? Our cats. Why wasn’t I there?

I pull on clothes, get in the car, drive to the place where life has ended. The man on the phone was right. There’s nothing left. Just tendrils of smoke coming from the foundation of a house and, in the front yard, the scorched remains of hollyhocks and astilbes. I remember the day we made that garden.

There are people here waiting to talk with me. A priest. My friend Mike. The police. They tell me it was an accident. A crossed wire in the walls, or maybe a surge in the current. It was fast, according to the neighbor who called 911. By the time anyone got there it was too late.

The medical examiner comes over. He offers me a soft handshake and an equally soft pat on the shoulder. “Just a couple questions,” he says. “Do you need help calling anyone? The people who need notifying?” Such an odd phrase. No one needs to be notified of something like this. No one should ever need that kind of wake-up call.

“I’ve got it,” I say. “I’ll start calling now.” I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t even know why I wasn’t there when it happened. How did I let this happen? I think about calling your family. I can’t bear the thought of telling them. Not on the phone. I have to drive to them. If I leave now I’ll be there by 3, maybe 4.

I look at my phone. It’s 1:18.

“But that’s not right,” I say. “He called at 1:18. What time did the fire start?”

“One-eighteen,” Mike says. “It’s still happening.” And now I see the house is engulfed in flames, only the scene is in black-and-white and the fire trucks are rolling backwards, away from the home and up the street. The flames start to recede, smoke pulls back into the windows and back inside the roof. The air goes dark. The fire goes out.

A light turns on in the kitchen. Through a gauzy curtain I see you holding Monty.

My phone rings. 1:18.


“Time to wake up, RonDavis,” you say.

I wake up and look at my phone. It’s 1:18 a.m.

There is no more sleep after that.

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