London Burning

June 19, 2011
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Flames licked her ankles as she flew up the shuddering staircase, but Beth was unable to leave her grandfather behind. True, he had been reduced to a handful of ashes for nearly two decades now, but the thought of his urn succumbing to the flames sent a jolt of cold blood through Beth’s veins. The fire had spread to the dining room and Beth could hear her mother’s desperate screeching from the front lawn, but she relentlessly stormed from room to room, haphazardly balancing everything from her mother’s jewelry box to tokens of admiration from old suitors in her soot-coated arms.

The fire was now flirting with the hem of her skirt, and a man’s voice from outside was resonating eerily around the collapsing walls, barely audible over the rampant roar of the inferno. They were calling her name; Beth could understand that much. Still, she waged her own war on the scorching home, the place where she had been born and lived her entire life. The fire is not rampant yet, she justified, rustling through her father’s bureau until she found the cigars that he held in such high regard. And he will be pleased that I saved these.

By the time that Beth reached her own bedroom, the flames were stinging the back of her neck. Around her neck, she draped a cheap silver locket given to her by a friend whom she no longer talked to. Her heartbeat was picking up now, pounding in rhythm with the fire. Just a bracelet or two more, she decided. So that Mother remembers what it was like to be wealthy.
With trembling hands, she slid her collection of scorching rings onto each finger. It was not until all of her fingers were adorned that her knuckles began to blister under the heat of the jewelry.
A silhouetted figure was in the hallway now, calling out to her over the flames. Beth let out a desperate gasp and turned back to the vanity desk that she had played at as a little girl. Grandmother’s lipstick, the finest in all of London, and- and her photograph with the Queen. And just one more-
A gloved hand closed around Beth’s upper arm and pulled her towards the doorway. Beth let out a despairing cry and tried to free herself from the fireman’s grasp. As she stumbled backwards, her jewelry box crashed to the floor and was immediately enveloped by the flames.
She could not make out the face of the man who was so adamant about pulling her from the disintegrating home, but she did not mind. All around her, objects were being shrouded by flames. Her family was safely outside, but Beth could not understand why nobody else cared about these tokens, these keepsakes that symbolized every milestone, that stood for things that memories could not.
Her curls had caught fire now, or perhaps it was just in her imagination that the flames were licking her face. But was it also in her imagination that her arms were trembling under the weight of everything that she had gathered?

Her legs were second to surrender to the smoke, but the arms of the fireman were strong and fast enough to catch her before she hit the ground. Cinders were biting at the walls of her throat, but the only ashes that Beth cared about were those of her grandfather, strewn across the floor amidst the shards of a porcelain urn. As she was dragged down the staircase, gasping for air, two century’s worth of golden rings slid from her charred fingers onto the collapsing ruins of her home.

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