Come on lets go see that house that caught fire.” Johanna said pulling Lisa out the door. “Poppa we are going outside to play.” She called out.
If anyone of the girls could sniff out something to do that was out of the ordinary and sometimes got her sisters into trouble, it was Johanna. Dora followed along, being the oldest and in charge, which meant little or nothing to Johanna.
The three girls were visiting their father for the first time since her mother had decided that they would be better living elsewhere. Lisa didn’t understand the mechanics of families separating, six was not an age to know these things. Her biggest worry, as her mother loaded her and her sisters into the ’56 VW Bus and left, was who was going to take care of poppa when they were gone. Whatever caused all this raucous was not as important as the people involved, good or bad.
The house that had caught fire several weeks early sat the closest on their street to the railroad tracks. None of them had seen a burned house before and Johanna, the adventurous one, wanted to see it up close and personal.
Set back from the street a little farther than the rest of the houses. Across the short front porch, there was a ‘No Trespassing’ sign and another that said ‘condemned’ suspended from a rope stretching across the steps to the door. That did hold much of a barrier to three inquisitive girl, eleven and under.
Lisa could not really read anything but short words and sentences but she knew what it said. Johanna was up and under the rope before Dora had a chance to summarize to them what kind of consequences might accompany ignoring the signs. Johanna was like a bull moose. Lisa had always found in situations such as these where she had charged ahead to get in behind her. Even at her age, she understood safe places and behind the bull moose, was a safe place.
Lisa would never forget the smell. There had been a light scent of burned house as they found their way from the street to the front of the house. It had steadily grown stronger as the approached but nothing prepared Lisa for her dive into an ocean of it when she walked through the front door. She grabbed her nose, plugged it shut. In seconds she was tasting it.
Dora finally gave up trying to explain the trouble they could get into when both her sisters were out of sight and decided to throw cautions to the wind.
The shell of the house was intact and the floor in good shape considering. The higher Lisa’s eyes went the worse the effect the fire had. The linoleum on the floors was old with age, dull and well-worn but discernable.
Johanna had disappeared down the small hall off to the left. Lisa looked and decided that now she was in trouble – she had heard all of Dora’s warning – she could wonder where she wanted. Once you stepped over that trouble line, it didn’t really matter which direction you went trouble was there with you or so she had learned in her short life.
Nothing had been moved. The living room looked just as it must have the night of the fire. There was a couch and a couple chairs and other small pieces. Lisa wondered toward the kitchen at the far end. She ran her small hand over the arm of one of the chairs and wondered who lived here and if they had gotten out safely.
She stood at the door of the kitchen and wondered what time of the day it had caught fire. Across the kitchen she went to the sink and lifted herself up onto her tip-toes. Her hands countering her balance on the counter as she leaned forward. A scant number of dishes in the blackened sink nothing to ignite the imagination. The pattern on the counters tops would have been a mystery but she rubbed her hand along the edge. The few inches of sunny yellow with white cracking upset the balance of blacks and dark grey in the remains of this one living place.
She lowered herself and turned. The back door looked almost melted to the door frame the refrigerator, a darken sentinel. Lifeless in its corner by the backdoor. She lifted her hands to wipe them on her shirt and stopped. The sudden fear of what she almost did made her catch her breath. Several seconds passed before she allowed herself to relax and breath. Black streaks down either side of her good play clothes would leave little space for any denial.
Momma was never in a good mood when it came to laundry but her mood became worse the dirtier they were. She rubbed her hands together until they looked uniform soot grey. They were quickly forgotten when she turned to the kitchen window. She liked exploring the dark corners before settling into the lighter side of things.
She turned to the stove in the corner, a short counter ran between it to the sink. The stove was black and empty except for a single saucepan. She thought about their kitchen at home and how busy it always looked, with momma baking or cooking. There was nothing on the counters in this one. Its emptiness gave it a spooky feeling, even more than the blackness.
She studied the small Formica topped kitchen table parked under the window. She wanted to wipe the soot from it to see if it was yellow too but stopped her hand. It could be that crackled sunshine yellow, like the counter, in her imagination. She was staring at the single bowl on the table. At the bottom of the bowl was a smidgeon of what must have been the occupant’s last meal. Lisa thought it looked like oatmeal. A spoon wedged in the meager remains.
Questions were crowding her brain. Was there only one person living here why is there only one bowl? Was a little girl eating breakfast when the fire broke out, getting ready for school? Did she have a mommy and a daddy or just a mommy at home like she does? What grade was she in? Lisa’s imagination had her mind running rampant when she heard her sisters coming through the living room.
They stepped into the kitchen. “Look Dora there is blood on that broken window.” Johanna grinned at her gruesome discovery.
The window over the table was empty except for a few shards of glass. Sure enough Lisa saw just a small single trickle of blood coming a few inches down from a sharp shard.
More questions formed in her mind but only one was important enough to voice. “Do you think they made it out alive?” She was thinking of that little girl sitting at the table eating her breakfast. Her sisters began rattling off scenarios but Lisa couldn’t forget the blood on the glass. She listened as her sisters imagined conclusions, each one had the occupants escape through this kitchen windows.
Lisa headed into the living room and was about to head down the hall when Johanna called out to get out before they get caught. Sounded like a good idea to Lisa she headed out the door slowly allowing her sisters time to catch up. She was on the path by the time they were together again.
“Lisa look what we found.” Johanna said handing her a piece of charred blanket. “It was tucked under the mattress of one of the beds.” Lisa stopped and took the piece of material. Handkerchief sized, Light powdery blue with one faded pink rose and the remnants of several more on the two charred edges.
Lisa was six now. Her mother had told her that when you started to go to school that big girls didn’t need baby blankets. She still loved her blanket but tried real hard not to make a fuss about it. Mother was right – mothers knew these things.
She had pined for her blanket just a little when it was lost in the move. She had given up months ago asking mother if she had found it yet, but she still pined quietly in her heart… Now Lisa was holding a piece of a blanket that looked just like hers. A blanket that her mother had had since she was a young lady, just starting college. Her mother had told Lisa it was old for a blanket.
“Lisa lets go.” Dora’s voice seemed far away. She looked up and they were far away. They were already on the sidewalk and heading back down the street to home. Folding the piece as neatly as possible Lisa stuffed it in her front pocket.
She thought how it would have been nice to know a girl who had a blanket just like hers. Surely they could have been friends. Anyone who had a powder blue felt blanket with open pink roses was ok in Lisa’s book. She felt sad for the little girl, she had lost her blanket too.