Fire In the Rain

June 9, 2008
By Megan Bunnell, Jamaica Plain, MA

Whenever it rains, I stare out the dripping windows and wonder what would happen if it never stopped. What would it be like to be swept away on a helpless adventure knowing that you could never get back what you left behind? Yesterday I turned thirteen. My father bought a chocolate cake with pink flowers and green writing; I didn’t remind him that I don’t eat chocolate. We sat across from each other, staring at the unlit candles, and considering the irony of lighting them.

My mother and I shared the same birthday, which meant that the day was never just about me. I always hated that I never had my moment in the spotlight. My father used to say, “Honey you are both the center of attention today,” but even a six-year-old knows that nothing has two centers. When I turned ten my father bought two cakes, one for me and one for mom. Mine was purple with raised yellow script and polka dots around the edges. Hers was white with a hundred swirls of rainbow frosting and chocolate writing perched on top. I liked hers better.

Yesterday I wanted to share my birthday with mom more than anything. I would have given up the day so she could enjoy it all for herself. I wonder why people are more generous when the giving becomes impossible.
My father spoke suddenly, “We can’t light these.”
I nodded. He stood up, pushed his chair back, and whispered “Happy birthday.” I couldn’t tell who he was talking to.
At my Mother’s funeral it rained. I stood outside with my arms wrapped around my waist pulling at the itchy black fabric of my dress that was six sizes too small. My mother bought me that dress when I was nine. She told me how grown-up I would look in it, how much like the young lady everyone said I was becoming. I didn’t really like the dress and I certainly couldn’t think of anywhere I would actually wear it. My bright yellow rain coat stuck out in the sea of dark colors at the church that afternoon while I waited on the steps as my father hugged a million people. The rain wasn’t stopping but no one seemed to care, we were all so wet now anyway. I heard someone say that God was crying for my mother. I didn’t believe that, but I wanted to.

One time when I was in third grade a firefighter came and visited our class. He told us that you should never build a house on top of one that has burned down. The smell will never entirely leave the land in the same way that the scar on my left knee from my roller-skating accident will never completely fade. I guess that is one of the reasons that we had to move although we didn’t move very far. When I open my left bedroom window and stare all the way to the right, I can see the empty place where the faded grey roof used to be. Sometimes the sun hits the space in such as way that I can imagine the house still stands where it used to, other times it looks so empty that I cannot even consider that a home was ever there.

Two months after the fire I was peering out my bedroom window. Rain was coming down so hard I thought the drops might make dents in the ground and within seconds, the carpet around my window was damp. I looked to my right and saw red, yellow and blue. A rainbow of bright flames was shooting up into the sky. I smelt smoke and heard blaring engines, too late to be of use. I panicked and shut the window, feeling around the dark room for a phone. I grabbed it and dialed 9-1 when my father ran through the door. He took the phone and threw it to his left. “The fire!” I screamed, while salty tears ran down familiar paths on my cheeks. My dad took my hand and led me to the window; together we opened it and peered out, my shaking finger pointing towards the flaming space. There was nothing there. No smoke, no flames, no engines, no people, just cold, dark rain.

Not long after that, I started seeing Doctor Adam. When he first told me to call him that I opened up immediately: the way any of us kids do when put on first name basis with an adult. Then I learned that his name was actually Amos Adam, and he no longer seemed so welcoming. His office was brown, so completely brown that it should have been white. In fact, he seemed like the type of man who would fit nicely into a white office. I asked him why his office wasn’t white. He told me he was the one who would be asking the questions.
“How often do you get these ‘episodes’?” he inquired, using air quotes that I suppose he thought made him seem more hip and relatable but in reality only widened the gap that I could already sense between us. I stared at him and he stared back. I wondered who would break the glare. Actually I knew he would back down first, after all I was staring contest champion of the sixth grade. I looked straight into his beady eyes, which were a strange blue if you looked long and hard enough. I wondered how many people actually knew that.

On the drive home my father didn’t ask how the session went. He only stared at the road, weaving in and out of traffic at a calm fifty miles per hour. I scrunched my eyes closed and tugged on my seatbelt, imagining us parked safe in the driveway at our house. Suddenly he screeched on the breaks. A woman dressed in a blue suit crossed the street waving thanks at us though the windshield. My father’s eyes followed her steps; even once she was safe on the other side he didn’t move the car. People started to beep behind us and maneuver their way around. “Dad,” I touched his arm. “Dad! Dad!” A single tear rolled down his face, followed by fifty thousand more. I followed his gaze. The woman stood at the street corner waiting for the bus. The afternoon sun shone down on her face reflecting off her pale hair as she looked up at the sky. “Mom,” I whispered.

A big white bus pulled up and sighed, hiding the woman from our tears. It pulled away slowly as we watched her walk to the back row of seats, her blonde hair still shining from the sun.
We sat there in the car for a while after, watching the empty corner and wondering when we would realize that she wasn’t coming back.

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