We celebrated my mother's and sister's birthdays tonight. It was nice at first... unforced.
It didn't work. The smoke got heavier. Someone thought they saw orange light in a back room.
One of the cats came out right away, which is what I'd always hoped ours would do. But some guy with a blue bandana over his face said the other cat was still inside.
I just sat down on the sofa with q little boy in my lap. I clapped our hands to distract him from the commotion outside and in the living room.
"Oh my god. The other cat ran back inside."
That's when he and I went downstairs to my old room. We could hear the sirens as they finally arrived outside. The room is different now. Green Christmas wrapping paper is tacked to the parts of the corkboard walls that our cats ripped up when we stayed there for a summer. The half bunkbed I slept in from the month my mom moved out through high school was gone, replaced with stacks of cardboard boxes. I saw a yellowing copy of a 2000 edition of the Onion and stacks of debate files about nanotechnology. The little black and white tv was stil there so I turned it on to distract us. American Idol or something. While my son limped around the room and stared at the boxes and diagonal wood paneling, I remembered myself in this room ten years before. Despite my lies, I'd left school for a woman who no longer seemed to want much to do with me. Those late nights eating microwaved colby-jack nachos, camping on dial-up AOL with syndicated Seinfeld, Married With Children, and Jerry Springer in the background. That Rites of Spring CD that turned my stomach into a mustard gassed trench when I played it everyday. Marathon Sim City sessions until I could see the light step through the window, letting me know I needed to get ready to go to my art history class at the local community college. Terrible impressions of Saddam Hussein during the early weeks of the Iraq invasion.
I was lost in this for a moment before they told me it was safe to come up. The fire was out, but the renter had returned home to two dying cats. They tried to resuscitate them, but it didn't work. My wife said he fell over when he saw the blanket get pulled over one of the cats. I couldn't look out the window. I just sat on the couch and tried to show a little boy how to give me a high five with his tiny, yogurt-greased fingers.