Apr/May 2002  •   Fiction

Fire is also hot

by Duncan White

I lay there next to Anne. I couldn't sleep. She was asleep. I looked at the clock. It was 4 a.m.

I closed my eyes.

I tried to imagine a river. A clean river with silver fish jumping from the water.

Just as I had this clean river, crisp white lines where it rushed by, I smelt fire.

I opened my eyes.

I lay there a few seconds. Sniffing. I could smell it. Fire.

"Anne," I said.

I nudged her.

"Wake up. Wake up."

"What?" she said.

"Fire," I said.


"There's a fire," I said. "We've got to get out."

I stood up, dressed and pulled Anne out of bed. I threw a dressing-gown at her. She put it on and we got out of there.

We got out the flat and down the two flights of stairs to the street. The stairs were lit all night by white lights going yellow. We stood outside, looking up at the building.

It was cold and we shivered.

"I don't see a fire," Anne said.

"You never see it," I said.

"I don't see smoke."

No one else was in the street. No one else was coming down.

"Where's the fire engine?" she said.

"It's coming."

"Where is everybody else?"

We waited. Anne looked up and down the street. Still there was nobody.

Anne shook her head.

"There's no fire."

She was looking at the building.

"Just wait," I said.

She shook her head and walked back towards the door. She opened it and went inside.

I stood there.

I could see her through the glass climbing the stairs in the yellow light.

It was still very cold.

I watched her go through the fire-door out of the stairwell.

I didn't move.

I could see a light in the sky behind the building. But no smoke.

In a window three floors up, a light was on. A man stood in the window holding the curtain back.

I watched him.

He was naked. He looked up and down the street, then he looked at me.

I looked back.

He shook his head, stepped back and let the curtain fall across the window.

The light stayed on behind the curtain. All the other windows were dark.

Then Anne was at her window. A low light was on. She didn't look at me.

She threw out my second pair of trousers. My second shirt. And my books.

Then she closed the window. And the light went out.

My things fell two floors, and lay in the street.

I went around picking them up, tucking the things under my arms. Then I stood up straight. I looked at the building.

The light behind it was getting bright. No one else was coming down. The fire engines hadn't come.

I shook my head.

Then the door opened. The man who had been naked in the window came out. He was dressed. He walked past me. He didn't look at me. He was going to work.

I shrugged. Behind the building the sun was coming up.

I turned and walked away. In the daylight the fire would be easier to put out. I left them to it.