April 17, 2017 by The Citron Review
by Siobhan Welch
The babysitter said to chill. The fire would have to burn through six buildings, plus an entire man-made pond before it could get to us. And by that time, she said, popping her gum: Your parents will be home.
We’d heard the sirens wailing up and down the complex, saw the trucks rush by in red frantic streaks, and now the low roar of engines idling. I began to cry.
The babysitter wanted to see the fire. Her face lit up like a birthday while she crouched down and told me to climb on piggyback. At first I said no way, but then she threatened to leave without me, so I hopped up, hooked my feet around her waist and held on tight. Then she flung open the front door and raced down the steps to the main circle outside where people had gathered to watch. My rib bones bounced against her back as she sprinted past them. She wanted to see the fire before they put it out, she said, her voice carrying in the wind. She wanted to see the blaze.
We rounded a bend, and she tripped over one of the fire hoses laid out in the street like a prehistoric snake. Together we hit the ground, me clutching her tanktop while my chin hit the concrete. She held on tight to my legs, hoisted herself back up as I hung on, then got re-centered and took off running again. Firemen yelled at us to “Go on home!” as she headed toward the burning building.
They’d doused out the last of the active flames by the time we got there. All that was left was the black wreckage of a home that used to look just like mine, a two-story townhouse with six front windows and two patios, silty smoke sweating from its charred remains.
When the shock of the fire finally wore off, and the people in our complex grew tired of whispering rumors of a faulty oven, a lit cigarette, possible insurance fraud, after the babysitter grew up and graduated and moved hundreds of miles away, I sometimes passed the house on my walks home, would take the long way back to see if I still remembered it, the winter-burnt smell of what was lost.
Siobhan Welch lives in Austin, Texas. Her short – and very short – fiction appears or is forthcoming in Split Lip, Devil’s Lake, Hobart, CHEAP POP, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere.