Today’s prompt: Start with this opening line: “I had never jumped out of a window before, but…” Don’t stop writing for fifteen minutes. Don’t think, don’t worry, don’t edit, don’t plot. Just keep the pen moving, or your fingers tapping the keys. Stand back and let it flow.
This is what happened next…
I had never jumped out of a window before but it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do. The smoke was building up too fast and the doorway was already blocked by the flames in the hall. There was no choice.
In my mind I had played out this scenario, and wondered what I would try to save or regret losing. As it turned out I wanted to save myself and time for regret seemed a luxury I could ill afford at that very moment. Regret is for those with time and capacity, an après-ski for whatever event has provoked a less than admirable response in the individual. So I jumped.
I was grateful that I was still on the ground floor although it wouldn’t have made much difference. I was so panicked I would have jumped off the roof of the Post Office Tower (or whatever it’s called nowadays – no time to think about that, just jump!)
I was also glad we had not replaced the windows with nice new double-glazed ones that don’t open fully for security reasons. No good in a fire, when you just NEED TO JUMP!
I landed on the ground with little grace or dignity, but intact, and gasped in the cold fresh air. In the distance, drawing nearer with every second, the wailing sound of sirens and then the glimmer of flashing blue lights. No time to daydream about firemen hoisting me oto safety and wiping my fevered brow. Just stumble away from the building. Just breathe fresh clean air.
Now the shaking began. I was out. I was alive. I wondered if it was the cold of the night air after the heat and fumes of the interior. Then I realised it was shock. It was dark, but then it was night time. Was I going to pass out? I wasn’t sure so I sucked in more air as hard as I could, wheezing like an asthmatic. I bent over, leaning on my knees, and thought of Wilfred Owen briefly, then wondered what the hell that was about. In a crisis, repeat poetry learned at school when 14 years old!
People were rushing about. There was more noise and confusion, and someone was talking at me urgently, asking questions. Then they started wrapping me up. That felt too much like smothering so I struggled until I realised it was a paramedic with a blanket. I thought I would suffocate but I didn’t. The blanket didn’t stop me shaking though, and I felt like my teeth would fall out. The paramedic checked my pulse and probably did other tests. I didn’t notice.
More questions. I didn’t care. The house was in proper flames now like you see on television or at the cinema. At bonfire night. No fireworks though. At least not unless the gas goes off.
The firemen seemed to be getting it under control. The paramedic sat me down. A neighbour appeared and gave me tea. Very kind. But sugared. I know that’s what they tell you to do but it just made me retch and then throw up. Finally they brought me another cup without sugar. It was the greatest thing anyone did for me; I wish I could remember who it was so I could thank them.
Yes, I was the only one in there. No, no one else. I was asleep in front of the television actually. No, no smoke alarm. Yes, I know I was lucky. Yes, I’ll get one fitted.
I watched my home burn and smoke and gutter and die. They took me to the hospital anyway to check me out and I slept there overnight then came back to face the ruins. My house was reasonably intact actually. But the smell and mess were appalling. I had no idea where to find the paperwork I thought I needed. I had no idea how to remove the ruined furniture or smoke-damaged items, how to replace them, how to do anything. Perhaps this was the time to allow myself regrets, not as a luxury, as I had imagined wildly when I leapt into the night air, but as an alternative to helplessness. An opportunity to beat myself up further for not magically knowing there might be some electrical fault or whatever it was. For daring to survive.
One of those kind neighbours turned up again and took me in hand, rang the people who needed to be rung once she had got me to find my mobile in the stinking wet remains of the living room. It was working well enough to bring up their numbers and she took it from there. I hadn’t realised how efficient my neighbours were. I wish I had known before. Although I’m not sure why.
Family turned up after a couple of hours or days or weeks; I’m not sure. The children were all shocked too but I still couldn’t react. I was closed in on myself. Everything came through a barrier, a curtain. People talked at me and I managed to say words which they seemed to think made sense – clever old me – but I wasn’t really there with them. They were in a faraway place where things made sense and I could only watch in amazement. I was here, trying to work out why the light wouldn’t come on.
That’s right, I was lucky wasn’t I? I suppose we can get insurance. I’m not sure what we do next to be honest. Thanks, I will come and stay until it’s sorted. You’re right, it’s probably for the best. Yes, I have stuff upstairs that is not too badly damaged; would you mind finding something for me? I haven’t rung work. Oh, thank you, that’s very kind.
Moving slowly like I’m underwater. It’s raining outside – bit late now. The children check through the house for the important stuff, whatever that is. A glazier has already patched the broken window in the living room and in the kitchen. How did that break? Oh, the fire, yes of course. When did it get fixed? The police arranged it, how helpful. So it will be safe to leave everything, because it’s all secured, yes, I see.
We go to my youngest son’s as he is nearest. We drink more tea, properly made I’m glad to say. I taught them how to make tea alright. I can’t eat anything yet, my stomach is still refusing food. It never refuses tea. I go for a lie down and don’t wake up until the next day.
Starting to emerge from the shadows now. Panic setting in again; what do I have to do? How, when, where? Children still in charge then, and I remember my mother, bewildered and lost when she had to move out of her flat into a care home, sitting on her chair and asking where she was. This is what she felt like. Reassured I can deal with it for her. Humiliated. No longer a real adult, a real person.
It turns out the thing I wanted to take with me from the burning house was the memory. It turns out that I brought it, but some darker memories hitched a ride too, stowed away. So now when I sit back and think of the happier days there, with my husband and the children, all of us younger and prettier and brighter, then those other memories also try to creep in. I’ll get them under control though. In a little while.