What I remember most is the doorbell interrupting loudly and repeatedly; a melody of identical pitches that evoked nervousness and a sense of urgency.
I was molding Play-Doh on the kitchen table, and my father glanced at me before moving swiftly towards the front door.
Though only six years old at the time, I was aware that something was wrong; this was the kind of emergency that made your parents remind you to check for cars when crossing the street.
As I moved from my chair to the cold white hall, I caught the end of a conversation, “… to call 9-1-1.” My father ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the phone. As he passed, he didn’t look at me. I heard the phone beep three times, a slight pause, then my father’s voice, strained and irregular.
The texture of the driveway was course and uneven beneath my feet. No one had told me to put shoes on. I looked up from my bare toes, across the park, and into the fragment of a fallen sun.
I had seen fire before; sleeping in fireplaces, floating on the ends of matches, dancing on sparklers, crackling in campfires, forcing firecrackers to splinter. I had seen the domestic, but I had never seen the beast. The flames were hungry, fast, and powerful.
My father stood a few paces behind me, gazing at the deep voids in the park’s grass made by the wheels of the candy apple fire-trucks. The firemen like children in sunshine yellow rain gear.
Under the circumstances of childhood curiosity and community chatter, I learned that a man had died in the fire. As his home ignited around him, he stood in the kitchen, drinking cup after cup of water, burning with a fever of thirst. He would not leave.
Days later, I moved alone on the swings across from the ashes. I could not quell my desire to reach the sky. Eventually I slowed to a faint stirring. A hand weighed on my shoulder and I turned to identify the source.
I stared into the empty space behind me and tried to understand. I felt the weight of a thirst the ocean could not satisfy, a hunger that no amount of life could ease.