[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21]
The image knocked me over. Vicious orange flames lick through a rolling haze of grey smoke. I hear only a few words of what the anchor says “the fire on Queen Street . . .” Queen Street. Tia. The anchor’s lips move, but the words do not reach me. My head floats. I see the fire as it mounts and recedes and mounts again in its tidal rage. I watch, unmoving, as a purple mass worms its way through the smoke, and vanishes from the view of the camera. I’m in the staff room of the library, far from the fire but I feel the pressing heat, hear the crackle and boom of buildings being consumed.
It is hard to say how much time passes before I notice the caption on the screen that tells me exactly where the fire is burning. It is too far west to touch Tia. She is safe. A rush of breath leaves me and my head settles back onto my shoulders. I need to be sure so I pull my backpack off the table and root through it for my phone. I am not even conscious of dialling before I hear Tia’s voice. She is wheezing, repeating “Hello? Hello?”
“Tia” I whisper.
“Sam? That you?” Her breathing is rapid bursts of static. I must have woken her up. I hadn’t thought about the time.
“Tia. Are you okay?”
“The fire on TV.”
“Over near Bathurst, I think. Turn on your TV.” I hear her moving around, a burst of noise as she turns on her television—she must have had the volume way up. A minute or so of silence as Tia catches up with the news.
“Christ, I got my first bike there.” I hear Tia inhale. “Sam, I’m nowhere close to that area. Look, I’m going downstairs to open in case anyone ends up down this way. It’s freezing out, people are going to need places to go out of the cold.”
“What?” This makes no sense to me. “Won’t the city take care of that?”
“Maybe, if they’re organized. Look, I’ve got to go. I’m going to call around to let people know I’m opening early. Where are you, work?”
“Well, come by when you’re done if you want.” The line goes dead. I continue to cradle the phone, listening to the dial tone. Tia’s okay, I tell myself over and over. I’m unscathed. This is not my disaster, so why do I feel ruined?
Somewhere inside me I trust that Tia’s doing a good thing. My mind slowly returns to normal speed, clunking like an old furnace turning on after a long summer. I doubt that many people will make their way into Tia’s shop, but then again, it depends on how large an area they wind up evacuating, how fast they can arrange emergency shelter, what direction they instruct people to go. I look back at the television. That’s an old area burning to the ground, I know that much. And most of the stores along Queen have people living above them. With a fire that intense, Toronto’s going to have a new scar across her belly. But it will heal. A city this size usually does. I hope everyone gets out. I’m not looking at the screen, but the footage is looping through my mind. A blaze like that will have casualties. I’m sure of it.
My watch tells me I should get back to work. It’s almost six a.m. My ten-minute coffee break had stretched into more than half an hour. I pack up my stuff and turn off the little television. I want to finish quickly and go to Tia. For the rest of the night the books in my peripheral vision catch fire. Over and over I turn my head to put out the flames.