Still In The Past
I kept coughing and looked again at the hairdryer as if it had something hidden inside that I'd yet to discover. With a secondary inspection I was positive that there was nothing blocking the intake of my hairdryer. There was no reason for me to feel like smoke was in the air because I thought something was burning. My lungs were aching as I felt like I was suffocating.
To my utter shock, I opened the bathroom door to billowing waves of black smoke heading right towards me. It was thick and dark and obviously toxic. I could hear crackling outside the closed bedroom door not fifteen feet from where I was. Hurriedly I slammed the bathroom door because I now smelt gasoline. Knowing how gas fires fed off their own expanding vapors quickly I began to panic.
A glance around the bathroom and I flew to the stack of towels on top of the counter. Mentally I was happy that I was the only one that ever put a stitch of clothes or linens away. Had Randolph been more efficient or even aware of how things worked, I would have been stuck holding a hand towel and a facecloth. Soaking a bunch of the towels I'd snagged, I pushed them up against the bottom of the door on the tiles to prevent more access to the heavy deadly smoke. Holding one of the small facecloths now soaked in cool water to my nose and mouth I looked wildly around trying to figure out what my next move was to be. Well, other than being burned alive.
The bathroom wasn't anything special. I had kept meaning to upgrade and redesign the room and make it worthy of the title 'master' bathroom, but hadn't done anything but mention it to Randolph. No super special shower with a million jets to keep me wet while the flames ruined the finish on the door. Or a Jacuzzi bathtub with air jets to keep me alive while the fire crackled into the room. The only window was small and high above me.
Quickly I placed the clothes hamper under the pane and climbed up to the window. I unlatched the window and hammered out the screen with my fist wrapped in another wet towel. I removed the other towel I'd been holding against my mouth and screamed out for help. I heard an answering shout.
Hoisting half my body out over the edge of the windowsill I screamed louder. Smoke had begun to join me in my small bathroom and it seemed to caress me as it billowed out and around me. A shout from below and one of my neighbors saw where I was and came running. Mr. Harold was a welcome sight. He said that he'd already called 911 and would be right back. Straining to stay level sticking my body out into the fresh air it took effort to not be any more hysterical that I already was.
I was trying to figure a way down to the ground without severely denting my skull on the walkway below me without much success. Just when I was ready to chance another head injury and probable brain damage Mr. Harold came back into view carrying a large metal ladder. He flipped the ladder open and locked the metal latches in place to hold the structure somewhat level. He climbed up and awkwardly pulled me even with the top step until I could swing my tush over the window frame and around when my legs finally hit a step. I was perched on the top step until I could swing my legs further down on the step below, and I completely ignored all the warning signs posted to the top surface about the danger of being on the very top step, then we both clambered down to ground.
I could hear the fire crackling and consuming my house while Mr. Harold questioned me, "Miss Alanna, anyone else inside?"
"No, it was just me." I knew the fire was erasing all evidence of my claims. Not much I could do from the top of the ladder.
Flames whooshed overhead as what I assumed was my roof beams began burning. The black smoke flooded any view I had of what exactly was on fire. Together Mr. Harold and I scrambled the rest of the way down the ladder. Once we hit the ground we pulled the ladder with us. Both of our eyes streamed with sooty tears. Snot ran freely from my nose as the smoke flooded my nasal passages. I coughed roughly.
Trembling I looked back to see my home disintegrating in the blaze. I heard the fire engines approaching with their loud sirens and the neighborhood dogs baying in answer. I didn't bother to turn to greet the latest set of public servants responding belatedly yet again to my supposed rescue. Simply I watched the lights with their rotating colors play across the trees near my home.
Someone automatically bundled me with a scratchy wool blanket and pulled me to the newest group of medical personnel to query me. I sat on the bumper of the ambulance. I was resisting another visit to the hospital if at all possible. One of the men in white pseudo-doctor coats had strapped an oxygen mask on my face and cautioned me to breath slowly. By rote I began to automatically answer their questions around the tubes and plastic, everything was beginning to blur. It wasn't just the tears from the smoke. The fire captain approached me hesitantly and waited a beat to be recognized by the swarming medical staff. They fell back once they noticed and caught his presence. He definitely had an aura.
"Miss?" The tone was soft.
It was kind of him to use the youthful form of address, but given my exhaustion and how haggard I must appear it was definitely unexpected. I also knew that it meant bad news. When any sort of authority figure used the informal title or diminutive it pretty much meant trouble or bad news in general. I braced myself mentally and physically against the bumper of the ambulance.
"Yes, Captain?" I carefully responded while carefully pushing the oxygen mask away from my face.
The medic tried to force me to replace the mask. Throwing him an angry look the medic momentarily backed away. My eyes burned and I felt flushed from the heat of the inferno. My throat was raw and scratchy. My despair was overwhelming.
"Ah, I am Captain Richards," he looked a bit surprised at my guessing his job title. I was feeling like hell but not stupid. The man was nearly standing at attention and I saw men and women dip their heads slightly to him. "Miss, my men report that they can see little chance of saving the structure. There was a propellant used which has exacerbated the blaze. Did you notice anything unusual this evening?"
That question struck me as so ludicrous I couldn't help laughing. Between gulping back my laughter and sobs I related my past twenty-four hours or so of mishaps as I was now referring to the seemingly unending series of disasters plaguing me. Anything usual would have been more remarkable by now. After I finished relating the stories of mugging and robbery he stopped me from adding any more details and asked if I knew the names of the police officers who'd taken my various statements.
I had to hand it to the captain he didn't seem to find my laughing odd. But then my entire house was going to be rubble before much longer. Maybe he thought I was hysterical. I wasn't that far from hysteria but I really didn't have the time for such dramas.
During this time of my giggling and giving out information the firemen hosed gallons of water on the house. In the dark shadows of the ambulance's doorway, I was still perched on the bumper, having successfully resisted being handled inside for another strap down to a crash cart. From there I was unbalanced with a sudden blinding light rolling over my face completely illuminating me in my dismal wool blanket and soot stained face. The tear tracks had to be pretty. My eyes kept involuntarily watering and I coughed out some more ugly phlegm. Yeah, that was pretty.
The captain left my side to fend off a local newscaster pristinely dressed with a microphone in her hand clattering over my cobbled walkway in her three-inch heels with her cameraman over her shoulder filming. He quickly redirected her from interviewing me with his strong charismatic smile and a gesture. Captain Richards moved even further away from me and framed himself so the burning wreck of my home was behind him.
To my amazement he patiently answered all the stupid questions for the local station's news bites and teases. The woman reporter spoke into her microphone with an intensity only Hollywood could duplicate. She tensely mentioned that they were 'live' at the scene. Shuddering ,I heard the damage being bloodlessly dissected by the news reporter and the fire captain. He politely requested that the correspondent not speak with me now but to contact me tomorrow and causally turned them away and walked them to their news van. The van's lights were still on and I was lit up like daylight and shaking slightly. The captain indicated to a patrolman he needed to push the crowd further back and waved as the newscaster took off with her breaking news. I realized there would be more sharks like her not as easily appeased. I was becoming far too jaded. I coughed up more bits of black that I prayed weren't my lungs, while the medic ignored my hands and put the oxygen mask back over my face.
Through a haze of drifting smoke, I watched another patrolman calmly snapping pictures of the fire and the growing crowd. I knew this behavior should make sense but I was perplexed by the action. Something was rattling in my mind but I was too fuzzy to recall what caused this seemingly unusual behavior. Captain Richards returned to my side saying, "That should keep the hounds at bay for a bit."
Stupidly I asked aloud, "Why is that officer taking pictures? Do they think I want to remember this evening or something?"
Once the words were out of my mouth I was remembering why they'd be taking pictures. Captain Richards missed my 'getting it' and chuckled at my droll remark then confirmed my recall by truthfully admitting, "You'd be surprised how many criminals stay around for the close ups."
Just then Randolph strode into my line of vision. Reluctantly I waved him over to where I was perched. I really wasn't happy to see him. Snapshots of a younger looking "Randolph" swam through my brain, I had too many unsolved issues and new fears to confront him now.
"Alanna, what happened? Are you all right? Did something catch fire while you were cooking?" He sounded condescending to me but I was even more horrified at his implication.
After all I certainly didn't burn food in any kitchen. The stereotypical 'bad-cook-as-wife' concept was pushed into the realm of possibilities with his unbelievably insensitive question. There were no further questions left between Captain Richards and me. I watched Randolph approach with very mixed feelings. He shook the fireman's hand and patted me on the arm.
Randolph dominated the scene from his first utterance. Together he and the captain began a male-bonding conversation. I settled back into the paramedics' capable comforts and ignored the bantering discussion of local sports and bad insurance. Why they were discussing insurance I had no idea. It seemed odd to me but I continued to disregard them and allowed the paramedics to swab at my face around the mask. I found myself breathing slowly. They babbled to me that I really should go back to the hospital for tests and observations given the smoke inhalation and previous injuries.
Silently agreeing and concluding I had no real viable options I removed the mask and said, "Sure, what the heck."
Randolph overheard this and came quickly to my side.
"What do you mean? Can't she go home with me? Isn't she all right?" He actually sounded genuinely concerned and upset. I was still wondering what he considered home given mine was pretty much charcoal and my reality melted well beyond recognition.