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When I was a child we slept in shared hotel rooms, tunnelled together, my sister and I in one bed, mother and father occupying the remaining space.

A fire alarm at three a.m, shaken awake by rough hands, sleep still threading through veins. Feet hastily tangled through pajama legs, dressing gowns gathered and tied unevenly, shoes on the wrong feet.

I imagined smoke, thin, delicate, the kind that left my sister's mouth during a cigarette. Creeping under doors, through hallways. I was tired, irritable, and wholly unafraid.

Photo: Étienne Beauregard-Riverin / Unsplash

They gathered us in the hotel car park. Huddled close, we waited for the fire engine, which arrived loud and blinding. I clapped and screamed; I'd never seen one in real life. An old woman dressed in furs shook her head, clicked her tongue at me.

Her husband gripping her shoulder. Rings on each finger, another first for me; a man unafraid to adorn himself, to display his wealth like a weapon.

The fire engine retreated; we were returned to our rooms. The alarm had been a red herring, caused by a cigarette left unattended in the hotel bar; a memento from a drunken guest.

Grandmother told me that the only people afraid of fires are those who have something to lose. That night, instead of sleeping, I thought about the rich man, willed the choke of his voice to come to me, and his face; the precise moment when he thought he had lost everything.

His sadness had settled uncomfortably around him, awkward, unseemly. Sometimes I forget that I've had a lifetime to learn how to wear mine.

#poetry #creativewriting #fire #panic #loss #childhoodmemory

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