She watched her husband sleep. He was old now, yet she still saw him as the young man she first met back in the summer of 1946. The years had been hard on them both. He had silver at his temples and ‘distinguished’ was a term often applied to him. He had spent his years in the steel mills and his hands were cracked, scarred and calloused. She smiled thinly to herself and brushed back a tangle of hair from her forehead. She once teased him saying, “Your hands are the softest part of you.” He’d smirk at her and try harder to be gentle. Loving. It was their way.
They had put their children through school and pinched pennies the entire time they were together. He had been promoted to foreman at the plant when the kids were smaller and their lifestyle gradually improved. They bought a house out in San Bernardino. It was on a quiet side street with a view of the nearby Angeles National Forest. The hills that backed up against their neighborhood were mostly grasses and small scrub brush, but they didn’t mind. They had a swimming pool and the hot summers were tolerable for them. Neighborhood children gathered almost daily to splash and swim in the refreshing water.
She shifted in her seat as her husband stirred then softly begin snoring again. Peering through the gloom, she saw soft fingers of sunlight spill through the blinds and light up the brass- framed family photographs on her side table. Her sons. Her life. ‘Mother’ is the name for ‘God’ on the lips of all children. Their house was quiet now. The din and racket of radios, laughter and telephones had long ago diminished. Dust motes spun lazily in the afternoon sun and she felt sleepy. She reached over and thumbed the TV remote. There had been fire scares lately.
The headline news spoke of horror. Fires were now spreading, burning the Angeles National Forest and she felt her pulse quicken. The newscaster reported that the fires were moving fast. Fire had always been a constant threat for them. It was their nemesis. She smelt the smoke earlier today as she had driven home from church. She had seen the TV coverage days before. “It will be contained.” She hoped.
Two days later, she watched as her husband watered the roof down with a green garden hose. The fires were descending on the area. Winds billowed fire and embers skyward. Soot rained down and she saw the sun– pale and yellow– through the burning smoke. She saw ashes–like snow–on the hood of her car and it was like watching some strange film on the ‘Holocaust’. Everything was gray, dying and wrong. This was really the end of all the good in her world. She called out to her husband. He turned to her and she saw fear.
Firemen approached from the big red trucks. They were being evacuated. “Where?!” She screamed out, wringing her hands in frustration. Her husband reached for her with his big calloused hands. He held her briefly and quickly they climbed into their car. He drove her away as the revolving lights of the fire engines lit up the demise of her life and dreams. She never returned and there was no reason. The fires had consumed all that she was.
Skateboarders discovered this property afterward. Blackened appliances, bicycles and smoldered furniture still sat amid the remains of the buckled house. Some members of the family came one day. The sons. The skateboarders had drained the pool and stacked the families scattered belongings to one side, covering them with a piece of rubber tarp. The sons said that their mother was heart- broken. She would never come back. It was done for her. She and their father had started anew elsewhere. The skaters mumbled their apologies, gathered their things and left. They would return and ride. They would try to find some sanity in overwhelming chaos. Skate- Ozzie