Something big happened last week among our hundred year-old row houses down by the river. It brought us out together.

A fire that started in an oil spill on her kitchen stove burned Señora Rosales’ place to the ground. It was horrid, but that’s not what I’ll remember.

We streamed to the sidewalk across the street, watched some neighbors run in and out of their front doors, dragging out sticks of furniture or carrying boxes of photographs. Mr. Abalon lugged out a huge carpet roll, but once to his gate, he dropped the rug and grabbed his chest. There he stayed. Mrs. Johnson carried brass candlesticks and her granddaughter’s painting of Jesus. She wept.

The fire now burst through the Rosales’ roof. Distant sirens wailed, but the only help for poor Señora was from Lucky Luce spraying his garden hose around, more on his own roof than on hers. The fire felt hot on my face.

When los bomberos stopped at the tracks blocks away, Señora screamed. We tore our eyes from the fire. She slapped her hands to her cheeks, screamed again, “Perrito! Dios mio!” Her pug, Chachalaco, was in the house. Discúlpeme, Jesús, she cried.

Everyone knew Chacho. He was a little brown barrel on legs and barked like a fat man choking on chicken bones. He grunted like a piglet.

The tall kid who lived past Johnson’s stepped up to her and leaned down to her ear. She clasped her hands at her chin, looked up at him, then closed her eyes, saying “Por favor, mi hijo, por favor.

He strode straight across the street. He lifted Lucky’s hose, sprayed his Padres hat, doused his curly hair, and soaked his tee shirt and jeans. He handed Lucky the hose and strode right up that walk. I can still see his straight, bony shoulders moving under his tee as he marched to the Señora’s front door.

No one spoke. People stopped running. They set down their loads and waited. Señora Rosales prayed. Flames roared and sirens wailed crescendo.

I was glad we lived in row houses. They were painted or peeling different colors but otherwise were exactly the same. Even in pitch dark, you couldn’t get lost in any neighbor’s house.

We stood open-mouthed—it seemed like fifty years— waiting. Now, everybody prayed. Then with a groan the kitchen roof buckled. Dining room windows exploded onto the sidewalk. We sucked air. Lucky wet his shoes with the hose.

At the moment fire engines rounded the corner, out comes the kid holding Chacho. He reached back, closed that front door, and walked right to La Señora. Everyone cheered. He held Chacho out to her. “He was hiding under the bed.” The pug licked her face furiously, choking and grunting like mad. We all clapped like it had been some kind of performance or something.

That house is gone now, a front tooth knocked from a neighborhood smile. Even little kids still remember that fire. A few adults say it was foolishness to enter a burning house. Others say it was heroism.

The fire’s not what I’ll remember. It was great for the kid to brave death and carry Chacho out of a burning house though neither coming out nor going in is what I’ll remember.

What I’ll see forever are those squared, broad shoulders he carried toward the door. Entering the house, he was all the neighborhood’s hope. Coming out, he was everybody’s hero.

But what will always make me remember him is that when he came out, he closed the door.

  1. Julia Baker says:

    I meant to hit four stars but hit one instead! I was the third voter. Very nice, evocative story. Sorry for my error in rating it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lila Christensen says:

    Beautiful story, perfect ending.


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