The fire is unlike anything she has ever seen before, a massive column of heat and light that begins somewhere underground and jets straight up into the sky. The police have blocked off the street, but clots of neighbors peer from their backyards, getting as close as they dare, eyes black with horror.
On TV, she has heard people say fires are loud, but this one sounds like a tornado, or a volcano, or a freight train—no, it’s more like rushing water, like freakin’ Niagara Falls, but that’s not what captures her attention. It’s the sight of her bike, the one she rode around the neighborhood when she was eight, lipstick pink with a hippie-flowered banana seat, hanging from the oak tree next to the garage.
The fire is sixty, maybe seventy feet across, gushing a blinding, phosphorus white. She is surprised that there is no smoke. Though the sun won’t set for two more hours, the fire sucks away light, creating its own time of day.
Bundled in a towel, Laurie watches the firemen, like aliens in their yellow rubber suits, shooting water at the heart of the inferno. Unimpressed, the fire bolts higher, boiling ten, twelve storeys into the sky above the house, or more accurately, where the house used to be.
Neon green swim goggles dangle from her fingers. Twenty minutes ago, she’d been splashing around the pool at the swim club with her brother Josh. She lets her gaze slide over the dun-colored hoses that snake across the sidewalk, to the Brodys’ trim blue and white colonial on the other side of the street. Everything seems normal, except that the windows are empty, the glass vaporized into powder. That, and the fact that the front door to her parents’ house is currently wedged at an angle through one of the Brodys’ bedroom windows.
The ugly beige furniture she’d always hated, the refrigerator handle mended with duct tape, the blue velvet couch cased in plastic, the Sears family photos with the fake autumn leaves backgrounds, the china cabinet full of Irish crystal and Dresden figurines, the linoleum floor she’d had to mop each Friday afternoon. The wood-paneled rec room where Josh cowered against the wall with his skinny arms criss-crossed over his head, his only shield against their father’s fists. The kitchen where her mother hid, washing dishes so she wouldn’t have to see. All gone now, blown to smithereens.
An NBC news truck with a satellite dish pulls up, but the police won’t let them through. They have to wait at the corner along with everyone else. At the end of the block, people puddle together in dribs and drabs of two and three. She is detached enough to note that they all look the same, hands pressed over the mouth, arms hugged over the chest, all elbows and right angles.
Laurie can’t take her eyes off the pillar of fire. It burns hot and fast and clean, like someone turned on a gigantic gas burner and struck a match.
She should feel something, shouldn’t she? She scours herself for an emotion, but all she feels is numb. Only then does she let herself wonder which room her father was in when the house exploded, blasting him back to God.