I almost killed us last night. I was cooking a batch of nectar for the hummingbird feeder (three parts water to one part sugar), but left the room and got distracted. When a smell like burnt marshmallows finally registered in my brain there was already a heavy, stinging fug in the hallway. Only then, as I ran cursing beneath it, did the smoke alarm go off.
The wife took the pan from the stovetop and set it outside in the soil of an empty flower box. It was full of black, pocked magma, a menacing and alien substance. We opened the windows, turned on the fans, wrapped the kids in their bathrobes and marched them onto the porch. My daughter, age six, thought nothing so exciting had ever happened before. She thought she might even see a shooting star.
We listened to the weird crackling of the lava in the pot, cooling in the night air. Ghost Cat – a neighbor’s white longhair that only appears at night – stepped out and looked in our direction. A black cat by day, a white cat by night? But our luck had held. Our precious flammable books and flammable furniture and flammable selves were unconsumed. Only the hummingbirds would suffer.
There was a five-alarm fire a few miles from our home the other night. I was reading on the couch when the smell crept in through the open windows. After making sure our own house wasn’t burning I got into the car and drove a wide circuit through town. It was almost 11pm and no one was out. There were no sirens, no lights. I rolled down the windows and sniffed at the air. The whole city smelled like a campfire circle.
I must have been seven or eight years old when our Filipino neighbors’ house burnt down. It happened in the middle of the night. I remember hearing voices and walking out of my room to find their whole family in our kitchen, wrapped in blankets, with my mother and father. Police officers and firefighters came in to speak with them. Standing on our lawn barefoot I watched the big house light up in orange and gold.
Before it was torn down and rebuilt I used to run across the street and explore what was left of it, looking for bits of melted glass and shiny things in the awful, charred frame. It was funny to think that I was walking through someone else’s home, that this was a garage, a bedroom, a hallway. When the family moved in again they had the entire street over for a party and roasted a whole pig on a spit in the backyard.