A fire in the Night
An empty tea cup, resting on a pile of rubble. An overturned doghouse, a charred remembrance of a family pet perhaps now dead, left behind, wandering. A pile of twisted and ashy tin, houses no more. Trash, to to picked up in the aftermath of the fire that started way up high, shining along the tops of the hills. A dustiness that sits in the skin and settles as you climb the hills, ascending into a cloud you really can’t see. In your car, or your work boots, the smell of burned things violates your nostrils.
There was a fire in one corner of the world. It took advantage of a dryness that began to consume itself, a spark that rolled and rolled down the hill until it swarmed and twirled across sections Valparaiso, a home, a city, rolling hills of Chile. What will they pull from underneath the rubble of things that used to belong to the identity of a child, a family? What will be born out of the dust, ruined houses, the news stories?
In Chile, the bomberos don’t have a salary. Thirty hours or more spent in the hills during the fire left them with just as much energy as if they had slept all night, or were standing at the peak of a mountain high up in the clouds.
I drank pisco sours one night a few days after the fire ended with the bomberos of Valparaíso and Antofagasta. I sat and listened to the firefighters unwind in the midst of memorized gringos, happy to pass the time smoking cigarettes and making conversation about anything but what captivated their lives in the moment. We stumbled around our awkward praise, we moved on, and settled into a language that let us take a deep breath and lay back in our seats.
They said that they were going to stay away from the hills tomorrow. They shook their heads and said they were going to sleep, sleep. Maybe they are going to pick themselves back up the way that Valparaíso could, with a little bit of rest and a little bit of time, snoozing, while it’s people move and bend within it, leaning against each other in the wind.
Maybe I am a gringa. That might be true when I open my mouth on the micro. Or when I ask someone to repeat the same sentence twice or three times. Or my ideas of culture and feminism and comfort. And maybe when they pulled out their dirty uniforms that smelled like ash that night I really wanted to try it on when they asked if I wanted to even though I didn’t, never ever could. But I still peak my head around the corner of streets that I don’t know and take a deep breath when around the corner, not everybody turns their head at a smile, or forgets to laugh when it sometimes hurts, and that when there are flames in the sky, everyone stands at a distance until they, all together, sweep up the dust that settles underneath grayish clouds.
We pick ourselves back up and it is enough. Nobody asks for more.