Not a Dream #1 by
(5 Stories)

Prompted By Disasters

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/ Stories

“There would have been no rescue here!”  The fire marshal held my arm as fiercely as my gaze, neither of us paying attention to the breast milk leaking across my shirt.  I tore my eyes away from his and tried again to look at the house, still reeking of wet char, a crazy perimeter of crime tape separating the ugly remains of our home from the gorgeous June morning.

“There would have been no rescue here!” The fire marshal held my arm as fiercely as my gaze, neither of us paying attention to the breast milk leaking across my shirt. I tore my eyes away from his and tried again to look at the house, still reeking of wet char, a crazy perimeter of crime tape separating the ugly remains of our home from the gorgeous June morning.

I stepped back and out of the chief’s grasp as he turned to my husband and began again the obsessive relating of this fire story. It had raged so fast and ferociously during the night that the house was lost before the first pumper truck got there.  An accelerant placed under the car; my car in the garage, had exploded into the second story spawning an inferno that raced through all the bedrooms until their floors collapsed into the rooms below.  What remained was a shell with blackened window eyes.

There had been another house, another fire, half a block away.  The owners there were in the home when the explosion in their garage occurred.  They’d gotten out, called the fire department and turned a garden hose on the fire, trying to keep it from spreading.  Then came the call about our fire, from our next-door neighbor who heard our alarm system and the blast that preceded it.

We’ve responded to that fire ma’am, we have a truck on the scene…,” the dispatcher had said.

There’s no truck here!” my neighbor had yelled.  More addresses, more time…. And then the problem with the hook-up at the hydrant… I was only half-listening, and it was my husband Steven the fire marshal was clutching.

“There would have been no rescue here!  It was so fast!”  That I heard again.P1100612 (2)

Without a word or a look, Steven placed baby Seth into my arms and then turned back to the fire chief.  Automatically I began to sway and twist from side to side, a little bounce at each knee like an insurance policy against the baby’s waking and fussing.  He’d slept all the way from the remote cottage in Canada where we were staying with friends and where there was no telephone.

At 6:00 a.m that morning, the Ontario Provincial Police had knocked at the door. “Is there a Steven Stone here? You’ll need to come with me, sir.  We received a call from the Ann Arbor fire department.  There’s been a fire.  You’ll need to confirm some information, and you can phone Ann Arbor from our post.”

The next hours were a blur of hurried packing of the portacrib and the three children, grabbing a hasty breakfast and then driving for three hours down the Bruce Peninsula, over the Blue Water Bridge and across the eastern bulge of lower Michigan, flat, calm and dull on a June Sunday morning.

Seth’s warm body lay nestled over my swollen breast. I’d need to nurse him soon.  I should go inside and……. The wave of nausea hit me like the hot air that wouldn’t come until later in the day.  There was no inside, only the wet smell of burned house behind the smoky façade.  I looked around; it was barely 11:00 a.m. but already a crowd of several dozen people were milling on the sidewalk and in the street.  I looked at them, and for the first time began to make eye contact with strangers and neighbors, the horror writ large on their faces.  A barrier, as toxic as a poisoned river, now separated us, the people whose house had been torched, whose worldly goods had vanished along with our peace of mind, across the chasm from our friends, acquaintances, and total strangers, the people to whom this had not happened.

I looked back to Steven, standing 10 feet away, staring at the house. I watched him analyze the damage.    He wore old basketball shorts and a ragged t-shirt, his long arms hanging at his sides, sandals planted on the sidewalk.  His oversized horn rimmed glasses tilted slightly more than his head, making him look for all the world like an oddball museum patron.  I saw the lawyer in him observing an unwelcome phenomenon.  I didn’t want to be the one to go into “do” mode.  I wanted Steven to step forward and take charge, but this wasn’t the courtroom, and Steven Stone was not my attorney at the moment. He’d gotten us here, starting six hours ago.  In another 16 hours, he’d be leaving to go to work.  Another wave of nausea.  I knew he would go; there would be no question of trying to get continuances or have a junior attorney substitute.  He doesn’t have clothes.. we need a place to sleep…. STOP!  One thing at a time.

Seth pulled his knees up reflexively, a grunt of discomfort muffled by his baby face pressed into my breast.  I was clutching him too tightly.  I loosened my hold slightly and dipped my nose across the top of his fuzzy head, inhaling the baby sweetness as I adjusted his body onto the shelf of my front, his once-more contented head resting quietly under my chin. He was nine weeks old.  Thirty-six hours of labor followed by a C-section was still too close to have recovered any sense of my body apart from his, but here I was having to think, and think quickly.

“….. We will continue to consider this a crime scene until we have completed our investigation, at which time we will determine which areas of the structure are safe to enter for recovery purposes..”  The fire marshal watched me as he spoke and I guessed he knew I hadn’t heard the first half of whatever he was saying.  “You can call the Red Cross if you require emergency assistance. Our department will want further information from you before we turn the matter over to the police.” The chief pressed a business card into my hand, and I turned away, looking in back of me as though I knew what I needed or wanted to see.  I did not.  The numbers of people had at least tripled, and the crowd now spilled into the street, slowing the continuous parade of cars down the easy bend of road in front of our house.  Gawkers, those who averted their eyes, and those who stared fascinated, were drawn like magnets to the awful spectacle.

From the sea of people, the figure of my friend Jodie emerged and approached me, tentative in the face of trauma as she always was.

“Abbie Rose!” Her slender arm went around the bulk of Seth and me, and that is when I began to cry.

Profile photo of Barbara Stark-Nemon Barbara Stark-Nemon
Barbara Stark-
Nemon ( grew up in Michigan, listening to her family’s stories of their former lives in Germany, which became the inspiration for her first novel, Even in Darkness. Barbara holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History and a Masters in Speech language Pathology from the University of Michigan. She lives, writes, and does fiber art and photography in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.

Tags: disaster, Hard Cider, work in progress, house fire
Characterizations: well written


  1. rosie says:

    Very moving story. Each one for this prompt has been profound. I am sorry you had this experience, but I am delighted that your friend showed up.

  2. John Zussman says:

    Great suspense—kept me on the edge of my seat! Unless it’s a secret, what kind of work in progress is this from?

  3. Thanks, John… this is a piece that is currently part of the prologue to my second novel…

  4. Suzy says:

    Fabulous story, Barbara. I thought it was about your own experience until I got to “Abbie Rose” at the end.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Stunning imagery and writing, Barbara. I don’t know how I missed it the first time around, but glad I noticed it this time. You brought us into the story with each sensation. I was there with you throughout. You took my breath away, even this early in the morning.

  6. Thanks so much, Betsy! Your comments mean so much to me!

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