by Laura Ender
They wanted me to comment on the fire, to tell the reporter what things my family had saved and how deeply I was affected. There was a cameraman and a man holding a microphone, a woman with a clipboard, and the reporter. I had seen her on channel six a few times.
We were miles from our home, but I could smell everything burning.
I looked toward the community center, where the kids played on the rocks. I could see smoke in the distance, burning pine. Helicopters buzzed.
I told them I didn’t know what to say. My husband walked out of the community center and called the kids. They ran to him. I had their sweaters in my hands.
The clipboard woman brushed some hair off my face. I tried to catch my husband’s glance. I asked the woman if she’d heard how close the fire was to our town.
Then they turned on the camera. I held my kids’ sweaters to my chest.
“How are you coping with all this?” the reporter said, and put the microphone in my face.
“Okay, I guess.”
“Did you have time to save anything? Family photos? Heirlooms?”
“We brought my daughter’s Barbies.” I knew she’d be embarrassed by this—her friends said she was too old for dolls—but it was all I could think of. “Photo albums. A couple of baseball bats.”
I didn’t mention the dozen candy bars buried in the bottom of my purse, or that when the kids asked for a snack, I sent them to stand in line for cookies rather than relinquish my stash. I didn’t tell them about my son’s eardrops, forgotten in the bathroom drawer, or his Lincoln Logs that would work as kindling while my daughter’s dolls survived, toys he would probably always look at in the store with a rage he wouldn’t understand. And if I bought new ones, part of him would know I had let the originals burn. I didn’t mention the diet shake granules I imagined would act like gunpowder, the Chef Boyardee that might superheat, explode, and bring the house down quicker, or that I enjoyed the idea that the fridge might melt, the dirt on the linoleum might turn to glass, my whole life as a mother melting back into the earth.
When the camera shut off, the cameraman said no houses had burned yet; they were pushing the fire back into the forest.
A bunch of kids played on the hillside, screaming and laughing like any other day. I watched them run up and down, nearly toppling the reporter. I prayed, Please, God, save our town. Someone screamed, “Mom!” and I looked, but couldn’t tell which mouth said it, which child, and in the crush of small arms and heads, I couldn’t tell which were mine.