Monday, December 20, 2004

vignette: something like that

You read the story in a newspaper: Girl Dies in Fire. And you shake your head and think "Poor girl" or "Poor parents of the girl" or something like that. If you look at the accompanying photo, you will see the girl, half-burnt, sprawled in her bathroom, partially covered by singed towels that were soaking wet when she entrusted her life to their questionable abilities. The bathtub is intact, which makes you think "She must have been to terrified to climb in" and maybe you're right. Or maybe not. Maybe she didn't want to get boiled. Or something like that.

The black and white photo reveals more details: a cracked mirror, remnants of her medicine cabinet, the lidless toilet. The shower curtain is missing, but you think that, of course, it must have melted away. You reread the article and discover that when she was found, the girl was almost obscured by steam. That she couldn't escape because the windows were bulletproof glass and locked from the outside. That she used her mobile phone twice: to call and to text for help. You think about yourself, about what you would do, who you would call when hope for rescue was still strong. And when it faded.

She was a politician's daughter, which explains the need for windows that denied gunshots. But she was also a young girl, which explains why her parents hoped that she was out with her friends when the fire consumed the house. She wasn't, which makes you think about statistics and fire safety and how you will get away from an inferno when it threatens your own home.

You think about calling the mother or the father of the girl. Not that you knew her, not that you know what to say. It's the thought of connecting, of connection, the thought of the thought that counts or something like that. You probably think it's stupid or maudlin or ill-timed and put down your own cell phone, not that you even know the phone number of anyone involved.

You look at the newspaper photo of the burnt bathroom again and picture the girl screaming or crying or praying or unconscious or hidden under wet towels and scalding steam, then turn the newspaper page looking for something, anything else, to read. Anything but that.


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