Martha was curled in bed and happily dreaming. She was lost in her vivid escapism from the day to day grind that was becoming the normal in these pandemic times of lockdown.
Tanya and Jeffrey were probably in the house somewhere as it was still night time and dark outside, never one to worry too much about the clock. Martha was not too concerned about the others at the best of times but especially so when she was in her dreamland.
Her door was closed over but enough to peer through if she needed and to listen for activity that may disturb her thoughts. All quiet.
Tanya Martin stirred as the air filled with a choking feeling like they were being smothered. She jumped with a start and shook Jeffrey and yelled, ‘fire’.
Jeffrey muttered something inaudible and turned back to sleep. Tanya frustrated and alarmed, ‘Get up, the house is burning’.
They both got up and coughed as they breathed in the smoke. Tanya grabbed her night dress and covered her nose and mouth, throwing a dressing gown to Jeffrey, her husband.
‘Cover up, and low and crawl, hurry’, she screamed.
Jeffrey followed her directions and they waded through the dark, thick haze and to the hall, the smell of fire was coming from the kitchen. What was burning?
‘Let’s just get out’, she blurted.
They reached the front door and out to the porch, slamming the door behind. The sirens were getting close, the neighbourhood had assembled to see the drama unfold.
Betty, their immediate neighbour ran to help them, she was like a mother to them, having lost her only child, a son, she had clung to her friends next door to help her through her grief. Her embrace was healing and soothing.
The fire engine whirred around the bend in their crescent and came to a stop. A flurry of activity happened and the house was being assessed and the job of planning to stem the flames commenced.
The fire chief approached the home owners with some questions.
‘Hey, good to see you are out of the home. What do you think happened?’, Captain Booth asked.
‘We don’t know, we awoke to the smoke and then saw flames in the kitchen on our way out’, Tanya said.
‘What could start or fuel a fire in there do you think?’, Captain Booth enquired.
‘Gas fire cooker, electric cooktop, dry goods, curtains, don’t know really’, they both added information as one.
‘Did you leave any appliances on when you went to bed?’, he asked.
‘No, I am quite OCD with checking switches and such, aren’t I, Jeffrey?’.
‘Sure is, but I am too, to a degree, the wiring has been redone and checked so many times since we lived here’.
Captain Booth, nodded a thank-you, and went to join his team. The activity was busy but organised. Every officer had a role and highly coordinated, ready to pounce into action.
An officer, came from the house to Captain Booth, he says, ‘Ready to start. Fire has not progressed from the source’.
‘Go’, was the command.
The Martins huddled with Betty as the team went about their business. Both thinking that everything would be gone, but that they were safe.
The paramedics had checked them over and were observing from a distance as they had declined oxygen or being short of breath. An officer came to check on them and saw they were distressed. ‘Would you like a warm drink’, Norah asked.
‘I think I will take them to my home, I am next door. Will it be safe enough? Will we be in your way or the fire officers?’, Betty asked.
‘That would be great, we know where you are if we need you, thank you, take care’, Norah spoke with much empathy in her voice.
Inside, the coffee ready and steaming their hands, they sunk into the settee.
‘So happy, I noticed the flames, I was up to the loo, one of my usual five times overnight. I panicked, called 000 and then came to knock on your door. No answer, I was so worried’, Betty exploded, all the information at once.
‘Thank you’, her neighbours offered, in unison. It was all they could muster. Slumping silently into the couch, they all breathed heavily as they tried to absorb the magnitude of the recent hours. Thinking in silence, the reconstruction and analysis began.
‘Oh my god, Martha’, Tanya yelped.
Martha was quite the independent loner, but the fire was an unknown and she had never seen anything like it. She loved the warmth of the open fires and the gas burning heaters, and would feel the winter coolness. She was in her element whenever they were burning.
She was street smart having come to this house from living rough about seven years ago. Tanya and Jeffrey accepted her into their home knowing her past and not really caring about where she had been.
Her independence and solitude were keeping her safe and happy, but could she have anticipated this disaster and planned her escape? Tanya would always let her be, and only interact when necessary or on her initiation. There were old wounds, both physical and psychological to be healed. A safe place was offered, and taken, no questions asked.
Now they had let her down, was Martha safe? Injured? Unconscious? Dead?
‘I have to find her’, Tanya ejected, ‘I am responsible for her’.
Betty calming her, ‘The fire officers checked the house, she must have gotten out. Maybe through the window?’
Tanya knew she was probably right, but she still worried.
There were many bright lights, action and noises outside and the flurry of it all drained Tanya’s senses. Martha would be distressed. Hope she had found a safe place to wade out the drama. She may have done another runner. If that is what she needed to do, then there was nothing they could do or say.
Dozing on and off for the next few hours. Betty covered them with blankets and nodded off herself in her beloved recliner. A knock to the door, startled them and Betty jumped. The lights, action and cacophony seemed to have settled. Opening the door, she was greeted by Captain Booth.
‘Morning to you Madam, may I speak with your neighbours, the Martins, please?’
Tanya and Jeffrey had both jumped to attention and greeted him at the threshold. He continued, ‘It appears like an electrical fault, we will know more later in the day. The home is not secure to return for now’.
Betty offered, ‘They are most welcomed here with me’.
Captain Booth handed them a document with a case number and said he would be in touch soon.
The following hours, saw them trying to eat, drink and appear to be holding it together. Appetite was not a priority, as so much more to deal with, poor Martha.
The trio managed another short nap in relative silence. The daylight had been somewhat blocked out with the drapes and shutters, a few filtered rays streamed in but otherwise complete darkness.
Jeffrey went towards the front door, a few hours later, the ladies were asleep and did not stir. Opening the door to brightness, by a squeaky hinge and knob, he had promised to fix for Betty, oops, he stepped onto the stoop. Turning to the right, he saw his home.
A few stray streams of ash, floated about, mixed with the sludge of his life, everything they owned, wet. He stood motionless, his mind cluttered with what now, and I’m safe, and everything in between.
His knees giving way he dropped down to the stairs. Ending in Rodin ‘the Thinker’ repose, he felt teardrops fall, he wept. Unaware, he felt an arm around his shoulder and glanced as Tanya leaned in for a kiss and a hug.
No words would ever explain their feelings right now, this intimate touch seemed to be saying quite a bit though. They embraced and lay down together. Tears and hugs, and they were dozing once more, exhaustion had finally taken them over.
When next they stirred, their intimacy had been encroached. Snuggled into them, a familiar sight, a tail whisping across their legs and purring contentment. Martha.