The Man and I awoke to the crackling sound of fire Monday morning.
I was awake, nursing Peanut, and heard a strange sound, like the tapping sound of rain falling on taut plastic. I lay in bed, nursing, and contemplated the sound, trying to sort out what it could be. I could see a bit of sky through the bottom of our bedroom window: the sky looked to be the dark blue of a clear nighttime sky of the first of summer, not the grey sky of a rainy day. The sound was also wrong: it was the rhythm of it. Rain has a certain rhythm, a certain musical quality – which is why I love it – and this sound lacked that. It was just ongoing and…impossible to place.
Peanut was nursing in her sleep, and I was reticent to wake her in the middle of the night just so I could know what the sound was, so I lay still in the bed, wondering. But every fibre in me urged me to go to the window and look out.
I felt The Man stir beside me, and turned my head to see him wake and roll half-way over, looking toward the window quizzically.
“I don’t know what that sound is,” I whispered, not wanting to wake Peanut. “Can you go see what it is?”
He would have gotten up and gone to the window even had I not spoken. He walked gingerly to the window, peeked out the blinds, screamed, and ran out of the room. He yelled “Fire!” back at me, as he was half way down the stairs.
I leapt out of bed, waking Peanut, who started to cry, but settled as soon as I picked her up. “Do I need to get out of the house?” I called to him, just as I got to the window and saw the bright red and yellow of flames reflecting off the building which backs onto our bedroom.
I ran to the closet and tried to find a sweater, but the one I knew was there seemed to have disappeared. I recalled an ancient and enormous wool zippered cardi in a basket of blankets over near the bathroom. With Peanut in my arms, I ran, found it, and ran down the stairs to our first floor.
The Man had found his phone and dialed 911. He was saying to the dispatcher that there was a fire several doors down from our house. His was not the first call. He hung up. We could hear sirens, I think, though it may have been just screaming in my head. I was hyperventilating and shaking and repeatedly saying “Oh God; Ok; oh God; Ok.”
I had a pair of slip-on sneakers at the top of the stairs to the front door. I put them on, and handed Peanut to The Man. I grabbed my favourite babywearing wrap from the hooks, also at the top of the stairs, where we keep them, tied it around myself, and put Peanut inside. He had Wembley on her leash already.
I looked at The Man. It had been maybe 60 seconds since we’d gotten up. I asked him, “Is there a single thing in this house that we want?” because I couldn’t think of anything, anything at all. He didn’t answer, but ran to the bookcase, about 20 feet away, and grabbed the wedding album. He was right beside the coffee table, where our laptop sits. “Grab the laptop!” I told him, “It has all Peanut’s baby pictures on it.”
And we left.
Our neighbour was outside, looking…bereft, and clinging to her 10 month old daughter. We stood on the sidewalk, watching smoke pour out of the dormer window a few units down to the south from our townhouse. Fire engines had arrived and were all over the street. Water was spraying through the air. We moved across the street and waited.
I watched flames escape the roof of a central unit. I watched the flames spread further south, along the roof, and the next unit to the south catch, and burn. Then I watched the wind turn. I watched the wind drive the flames north. I watched as smoke escaped the chimney, and then the dormer window to the loft of each unit, moving north. Moving toward our unit.
The townhouses are stacked; our upper unit, and the unit immediately below us are the only two without smoke or water damage. Firefighters had to run water lines through the units immediately next to us; they suffered both smoke and water damage.
The Man has been in twice to salvage belongings. On his first trip, he grabbed our kilts – my dancing kilt and his wedding kilt – my wedding gown, including the enormous crinoline, his guitar, some of Peanut’s clothes, and the dress form my mother had gifted me for my birthday. I received it on Saturday, two days before my birthday; two days before we woke to fire. An inauspicious beginning to my year, to be sure.
Our unit is untouched. No smoke or water damage. Our contents are unharmed. We are incredibly lucky. We will likely be able to save almost everything, though I’m worried about how things will fare given the refrigerator full of rotting food (including milk, breastmilk and eggs), the half-filled bag of dirty cloth diapers in the bathroom, and the rapidly increasing temperatures in the city.
We’re still waiting to hear what will happen with our home. We’re in a hotel at the moment, thanks to the Red Cross. We have a lot of friends in the city, and our families are all around the city as well. We have a lot of people taking care of us, as well as an outpouring of support and offers of clothes for all three of us from the women of the knittyboard.
We’ll be alright. For now, we’re homeless, but not hopeless.