By Tom Walsh
Standing in the soot where the couch used to be, Jim looked at the plain, silver ring he held between his thumb and index finger.
“That was my dad’s wedding ring,” Alice said, polishing the well-worn white gold against her T-shirt. “He lost it years ago. Must have slipped between the cushions. Napping on that couch in the afternoon sun is how I’ll always picture him.”
[The Lucky Creek Fire started a quarter mile from Alice’s childhood home after a lightning storm ignited a tinder dry pile of pine needles, which smoldered for three days before erupting. When Jim and Alice were married a year later, on the fire’s anniversary, she presented him with the ring.]
Next door, Sally Jacobs poked at a dark mound of melted metal with her foot.
“I’m in the kitchen, Bill,” she called to her husband. “I just found the woodstove. I think.”
“Careful, honey—there’s an old root cellar under there somewhere. Surprised the kitchen didn’t collapse right into it. I found Joey’s Legos,” he said, walking toward Sally with a thirty-pound mass of melted rainbow-hued plastic in his arms.
[The Jacobs’ house was the first in the neighborhood to burn. A windblown ember landed on their roof just fifteen minutes after they sped away. Joey carved and polished the Lego block into an intricate sculpture of flames. It was his ticket into art school.]
In the lot backing up to the Jacobs’, Bill Pfeiffer rummaged through the remnants of his workshop. One wall still stood, decorated by outlines of melted tools—two shovels, an axe, a pitchfork, and a rock bar.
“Daddy! Daddy!” he heard his daughter Juliana cry. In the meadow that led to the blackened trunks of burnt alders and willows, Juliana led Marginal, her jet-black foal. On the ride to the old neighborhood, Bill had said not to get her hopes up; he didn’t think the young horse could have survived.
[Let loose from his barn stall by Juliana at four in the morning, Marginal had spent two wild-eyed days in the creek bed as the fire burned through, the air heavy with smoke. Three months later, he and Juliana won a blue ribbon at the State Fair.]
Across the street, Charlene Stuart sat on the curb, tears flowing, wetting the ashes in the gutter. Theirs was the only house in the neighborhood that hadn’t burned. She couldn’t bear to go inside, to see toys scattered on the living room floor, finger paintings hanging on the fridge, tricycles in the garage.
[The gusting wind acted as a bellows on the fire, but shifted west just long enough to spare Charlene’s home. A year later, she founded a scholarship honoring her twin boys, killed when a fire tornado toppled a ponderosa pine onto the family truck as they sped away the night of the fire.]