Have you ever been lying in bed, almost asleep, floating in that distant in between place and heard a bump or a thump or a crash, or a far off rumble way in the distance? Did your body pull together, tightened up from the inside out, go on alert?
You might have continued to lie there for a few seconds attentive, listening, waiting to see if there was more, or you might have gotten up, prowled through your home, restless and unsettled and finally, finding nothing, crawled back into bed, rolled over a few times and then drifted off to sleep.
"Fire!" she screamed. "Fire!"
Fred leaped out of bed, fully alert, me close behind him, clutching for our housecoats, scrambling through the boat.
The float home down the dock was in conflagration. Flames reached high into the sky and the heat was felt, hot and burning on our faces and legs, even where we were, several fingers away.
He talked to me two days later the young man, who with no thought for himself took his tiny tug boat and pulled the float home away from the dock. Past the other float homes, past “Serendipity” and “Reality” and “Peggy Sue”, past our small family, tied in a knot together on the dock watching, past our boat, our home and then out into the harbour.
I was folding clothes in the laundry and he came in, opened the dryer doors and looked inside and then closed them again. I was aware that there were no clothes in those dryers. "How ya doing?" I asked.
He put his hand on the counter where I was folding clothes and leaned on his arm and paused. He looked tired.
"How ya doing? You're a hero you know ", I advised him and his face crumpled.
"I keep hearing her screaming", he told me. "I wake up in the middle of the night and hear her screaming."
"She was tired", I told the hero. "Tired. She's not hurting anymore. Give yourself time. You did the best you could. It was good enough!"
He was a young man and angry, and he was hurting, and that day he was tired. "The newspapers got it all wrong", he told me pure pain on his face.
"Ya. I know. "
The night of the fire we stood on the dock, my companion, my daughter and I in a tight little knot, and watched two men, two heroes from the Marina wrench the four foot propane tanks off the back of the float home, flames and heat and hell and salvation swirling in the air around them. We watched as the hero brought his tiny little tug boat around and watch still while another hero, garden hose in hand, tied the lines to the burning pyre. We watched other distant figures, distant heroes in the background spraying water and directing traffic and then we watched as the bonfire that once was a home was towed around the dock, past our own boat, our home, and then out into the bay.
"I keep hearing her screaming."
The next day and for weeks afterward we watched bouquets of flowers come fresh and beautiful, bought and hand picked, weeds and roses, laid on the burnt dock, silent homage, slowly wither in the spring air. Then the flowers would be pushed into the water and drift away with the tides. The next morning there'd be more. Later on we watched the hero pull up the burnt planks and replace them one by one and bore witness while our neighbours hammered new tiles onto their float home roofs and struggled bringing awkward new windows in to replace those melted in the overwhelming heat.
"Need a hand?"
Later still we watched the hero sitting on the dock across the bay, dipping his feet into the water and staring into the sky.
Have you ever been lying in bed, almost asleep, floating in that distant in between place and heard a bump or a thump or a crash or a rumble far off in the distance and your body pulled together, tightened from the inside out, went on alert?
I lived in a place in time where heroes were something other people were. Maybe in the newspapers, maybe in the magazines. Maybe on TV. Only maybe though. I lived in a place in time where heroes were lost. And then one day lying in bed, almost asleep, floating in that distant in between place, I heard:
"Did you get my message?"
or maybe it was a thump or a bump or a backfire far off in the distance.