After I told them that I smelled smoke, they told me to wait in my room. I heard the sirens. Crouching low in one of the front windows I watched the fire engine go by our house and turn into the driveway next door. Filled with fear, I was almost pounding on the windowsill willing the engine to return to our house.
“Oh, we have a volunteer fire department”, they said later talking over my head.
In the early seventies, I carried a second trust deed on a wonderful old Edwardian home, the Garrison House. Turned woods decorated the arching banisters. One story tall turnings lined the music room creating a magical fence in the middle of the house. Paneling filled every room. Grateful to have a home after my divorce, I moved into one of the front parlors. I brought with me the heavy, old blue, curtains from my Imperial Beach house.
After a year or so, I moved on to work as a caretaker in another old house. One clear, sunny New Year morning, the phone’s insistent ringing woke me from my endless hangover.
“Your house is burning,” someone told me.
I woke my neighbor, and he drove me over as fast as he could. I shook all the way. A five alarm fire, they told me. The wind had blown in fiercely from the desert. The house burned at an angle starting from candles under my old curtains.
I was allowed up what was left of the left stairs the next day. Nothing seemed firm under my feet. The stairs weren’t really there. What I was walking on were my most beloved and treasured books which had lived in a case on the stairs now wet down to mush. Some of my furniture survived in a far corner of the house. The horror was unimaginable.
Tucked in bed early one night, I was warm under a quilt in my heaterless cottage. Outside there were screams of, “Fire, Fire!”
I grabbed my daughter and we ran across the street to see the single wall cottage next door shooting flames out the windows and roof.
This time I screamed and cried, “my house, my house,” over and over
Again I heard sirens, but I couldn’t stop crying. One nice neighbor took up my hose and wet down the side of the cottage until the fire engines arrived. In the morning, we found the side of my cottage scorched and bubbled, and the arson squad in residence next door.
There’s always fire, it seems, in every life.