It began with the sound of sirens, many sirens, followed by my dogs announcing people in the streets, an uncommon sight at eleven PM. I asked the neighbors what was going on and they pointed toward the Interstate.
“A big fire,” Claudia said. “It’s huge.”
I walked out to join the group. At the end of our street, where the I-375 forms a comma off I-275, a blaze lit up the night sky. Explosions rat-a-tat-tatted in a staccato rhythm not unlike the machine gun sounds I’d heard in movies.
“A truck is up there. That’s what’s burning. The sounds you hear, they’re from the fire hitting stuff in the City’s Maintenance lot.” Richard said.
I began walking, joining the throng of people at the far side of the field. Traffic was being redirected away from the area. The people in the cars asked us what was happening. Jay shouted that there’d been an accident, that the fire was hitting the spot where the city stored equipment.
A man on a motor scooter tried to bypass the police barricade. They yelled at him, he pretended he’d never intended to go in the opposite direction they’d demanded. Another guy on foot tried to cross the street into the open field. The officers yelled for him to get back on the side of the street where he belonged. I was astounded that these people were making the job of the police tougher.
I stood quietly. I watched. I realized the magnitude of what I was experiencing. Someone had died up there. Someone’s wife had just become a widow. Someone other than me, this time.
“They probably store all kinds of stuff there that’ll go up. Paint, diesel fuel, all kinds of stuff.” Another neighbor, Jay, offered while we all stared skyward at the billowing clouds of black smoke roiling through the night.
“Did the truck fall over into the lot?” I asked.
“We don’t know yet. I think it was a semi.”
“Somewhere, someone is going to find out they’ve lost a son, a brother, a husband, a father.” I said, to no one in particular. “I wonder, how many. I wonder, was there someone sleeping in the cab? Was there more than one vehicle?”
“We don’t know.”
I said a prayer. I went home, and turned on the news. It was a tanker, they said. The odors of burning rubber and diesel fuel wafted through the windows as the wind shifted. I sat on the couch until well after two, unable to get the horror out of my mind. I realized I’d witnessed some other woman becoming a widow.