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I Really Saw Her
Driving up to the house, I expected to see the thick, black cloud of dust and the flashing of lights drowned by frantic voices and shuffled feet, but I only remember the smell. The sweet, inviting scent of a Christmas fireplace turned into a pungent wave of burnt memories.
I took the same path up the driveway that I had skipped along almost every Saturday before awaiting my soup and coloring books, but this time as I approached the house, I was stopped by a tall, intimidating man. He may have told me to turn around, but the air was so thick, I was too focused on breathing to hear.
But I did turn around; I wish I hadn’t.
The triangle patch of grass across the street had been a parking lot for the family’s cars until that day. No one ever thought the grass had a purpose, but it was now the only thing to shelter us from the flames.
Making my way out of the stiff, hot air, I saw her. She was sitting in an old lawn chair, shivering in a blanket, and staring blankly at the stars. She looked so removed, so shocked, and so frail. My walk quickened to a run as I joined my family on the green patch of life amongst the ash. I couldn't bring myself to turn back to her. This wasn't a woman I knew. This person was a ghost.
I listened to the distressed voices.
“How did you get out the house?”
“When did you notice the flames?”
“Why is your face still hot?”
She couldn't answer. Pretending to talk to my cousins, I tuned into her sounds. They were faint and unclear, some merely a mumble.
As I started to intently examine the scene for the first time, I noticed it all: the black cloud high in the night sky, the red light circling the top of the ambulance, and the people-over twenty of them huddled there. There were twenty worried faces I'm sure, but the only whole image I saw clearly was hers.
She sat hunched like she wanted to form into a ball and roll away, still dressed in her lime green track suit I had given her for Christmas a few years before. She tried to move her hands to explain, but all there was was trembling fingers grasping at air. I hadn't seen her face so closely until that moment. I crouched in front of her, putting my hand on hers. She was red, and heat radiated off her cheeks; I saw the blisters starting to form.
Looking directly into her eyes, I watched her pupils run back and forth as if she wanted to jump out of this body, and I knew. This woman was scared; this woman was ill, and this woman would never step into her own home again.
As her delicate, smooth face slowly morphed into blisters, her mind begin to turn off.
I knew the house was gone. I knew Saturdays would never be the same.
I did not know that a grease fire was the beginning of the end of my grandmother’s life.