Trailer Fire by Timothy Schirmer

Summer in Florida. A trailer catches fire in the lavender twilight and a crowd converges on the scene. A woman is circling frantically as the engines pull into the mobile home park. She is jumping at one of the engulfed windows. Unending lather of black smoke, and deep inside, I can see the fire rolling around like something rich and sweet spinning onto a stick. The woman is sweaty and red and crying in French, “Pierre! Pierre! Pierre!”

“Who is Pierre?” I say to myself, or have I said it aloud?

“Hopefully not her cat!” says someone.

“Hopefully not her husband, or her son!” says someone else.

“No, no, no—don’t worry!” comes another voice in the crowd, “She lives alone. This woman lives alone.”

It’s good to hear that she has so little to lose, this woman. I wonder, what might be the upside of this fire? A life tilts, but does not shatter, only spills out its contents. I once sold my belongings and moved from Manhattan to a town in Texas. It lasted only a year. Starting over felt like taking a pill that didn’t do anything at all. Or like trying to see myself from a hidden angle. Some years ago I remember walking up a crowded street next to a ragged man who was wearing shorts in the cold weather, and he was shouting at everyone, he was shouting, “The only way to disappear, to vanish, really vanish, is to be eaten by pigs. Pigs will eat all of you! Pigs will eat everything, even your bones.” The woman I was walking with said, let’s get around this guy, let’s get away from this guy.

Later that evening, as the fire engines are pulling away, a man shows up in a cruddy little pickup truck. He seems to know the woman who has lost her trailer, although, not well. There is perhaps someone between them whom they both know better than they know each other. The man guides the woman to the passenger seat. Before she gets in, she looks around, as if she’s forgetting something. Then she sits in the pickup truck and stares unflinchingly at the highway. We all look at her, those of us who have hung around the scene, but she does not look back, not even a little bit. The man stands for a moment and gazes into the pit of rubble and twisted metal that is still smoking like one of those small and gently active volcanoes in Hawaii. One of us steps forward and says to the man, “Who is Pierre?”

The man says, “Pierre, I don’t know a Pierre.”

“She was crying for a Pierre,” I say.

The man replies, “Nobody died here,” and he walks over to the edge of the rubble and he picks something up. I see that it is a small wind-chime, like coins on strings. He folds it into his pocket. He comes toward us and he says, “Oh yes, Pierre.” And the man scratches the toe of his boot into the gravel. The man tells us that Pierre was the woman’s bird, a little canary that trilled beautifully, perhaps even, obsessively. Stood like a bright little lemon in his cage. He stood, and he sang.

Timothy Schirmer currently lives in New York City, where he sleeps through nearly every sunrise. His writing has recently appeared in Necessary Fiction, Crab Creek Review, Rattle, Hobart, Word Riot, JMWW, FRiGG, The Monarch Review, The Adirondack Review, Rust + Moth, Bluestem, and in other fine places. He lives online at timothyschirmer.com.

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