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What Surpirised Him Most
What surprised him most was the fact that the cat was still alive. He never saw it get out. He forgot about it at the time and he didn't know how anything could live through that fire. That fire ate up everything in its path. If he hadn't gotten them out so fast, they wouldn't have stood a chance. The cat was with a neighbor now. They were all scattered to the winds for awhile, like ash.
He stood on the street corner across from the house. Or, what used to be the house but was now a nearly empty lot, a blight. He was lost in thought.
The wind blew through his charity coat, hanging open because it lacked a crucial button. He didn't notice. His eyes were wet. A passerby might think he was crying, looking at the burned wreckage across the street. It was just the Wisconsin cold, already mean and abrasive in early November.
There was snow on the ground the night of the fire. The fire melted the snow. His girl Judy had punched out a window with her bare hand and had managed to throw Tommy, not yet one, down to a business man, on his way to work so early in the morning. Tommy in his bassinet, didn't cry. Just had wide eyes.
He shook his head at the thought. What if the business man hadn't been there? What if his oldest girl had been another teenage girl, not the earthbound mothering type she had always been? The wind blew a little colder. It actually soothed the burns on his back.
He clenched his fists as he remembered the moment he slipped off his pants that night and draped them over the chair, the cash from his paycheck still folded in the wallet in his front pocket.
What was he doing here? He prayed to God. His prayer said, "What am I doing here?"
He crossed the street and stepped into the smeary, charcoal relief that had been his home. He walked through the remnants of the dining room and den. He tread on the ash that represented the bedrooms of his seven children. Each bedroom, empty of its inhabitants, lay in powdery piles of blackness now.
He found the master bedroom in his memory, traced the steps he'd taken a million times to his marital bed. He stood there in the ghost of his home feeling aimless, pointless.
As he turned to leave. A new kind of blackness caught his eye. He looked a little harder. He conjured the spirit of the chair where his pants had hung. He walked over and bent down to get a closer look, the burns on his back stretching and smarting with the movement.
He plunged his hand into the inky puddle and picked up his wallet. He saw instantly in his mind the events that had to take place for this to happen. The flames burned his pants. The firemen sprayed their hoses. The pocket burned through, the wallet fell in a puddle and there it remained, money and all, barely singed.
He stood up, real tears in his eyes now. He prayed to God. His prayer said, "thank you."