This bedroom belongs to a single man with one obsession, redemption. Most bedrooms are marked by their comfortable furniture and low lighting. Most bedrooms are silent or if there is sound it is the sound of an ambient air machine used to create a comfortable white noise. But this room smells faintly of fire, there is a black and yellow fireman’s jacket draped over a chair and matching boots on the floor beside it. The furniture is sparse and utilitarian; there is a bed so small it should be called a cot, a dresser, a side table for a lamp with no shade and a small desk that holds his firemen’s helmet and the chair that serves as his valet. And in the background, one can discern the low murmur of a police radio, which is always on. There is one picture, a faded photograph of a couple on their wedding day. This is wedged between the glass and wood frame of the mirror above the dresser.
The room is dead silent except for the quiet breathing of an exhausted person finally asleep. Soon, the peace is broken by the sharp shrill of a siren and the voice of a dispatcher. “All units! Report of a house fire 85 Farside Road. Be advised there are children in the residence.”
Gregory Mills woke to the sound of the alarm and as he collected himself, he comprehends the meaning of the call. He feels his heart beating fast and his stomach gripped with nerves. He knows the address and the family. He closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose and says a small prayer. He gets up and heads to the dresser for fresh clothes. He glances at the faded photo and tells himself that this too is part of the job.
The fire that had started in the kitchen was just reaching the living room when Gregory arrived at the house. Neighbors were camped outside wearing various definitions of sleepwear from camisoles and long silk pants to sweats and t-shirts. He heard the sounds of screams coming from the family as they were lead out by other members of Greg’s volunteer rescue squad, ‘The BABY! Where is the BABY??!!” Gregory rushed back into the building, his heart beating fast and his breathing heavy. Someone called out his name but the sound was drowned out by the roar of the flame and the cracking of timber. Clumsily, he felt his way toward the child’s bedroom. He found little Nicole laying in a fetal position in the window seat, her face had the untroubled innocence of a child asleep. He let out a deep growl and prayed that it was only sleep and not something deeper. He bent down and slowly lifted up and laid her on his back. The three year old’s body was limp, he could feel her warmth but he did not think she was breathing. “Hold on Nic, just hold on for me Baby, we are going to get you outta here!” he whispered. Quickly, he bounded out of the smoldering shell, ripped off his helmet and began to scream for medics. The little girl’s body was soon swarming with adults in white shirts, all shouting orders at each other and using bits and pieces of medical equipment designed to bring the dead back to life. In a few moments Nicole was being loaded into a stretcher and placed into the back of an ambulance. Gregory watched as the girl’s mother climbed aboard with her baby. He watched the tears from the young woman’s’ eyes as she held the tiny hand of her only child, he saw her mouth move in silent motherly comfort to regardless of whether those words would be heard by the recipient.
The crowd that had come to watch the fire was now getting a second show as the rescue workers scurried about, trying to get the little girl stabilized. As he watches the doors to the ambulance shut, he is suddenly struck by the force of enthusiastic embrace and he face is wet with tearful kisses, “Gregory!! Dear God, you are so wonderful. Thank you so much. I can’t believe you did that, you are the bravest man I know. Oh Gregory!” His admirer released him and he saw that it was the little girl’s grandmother, “Nelle, it was my job. I am just glad I got here when I did.” He said, putting her hand on her shoulder.
Nelle said, “Gregory, I don’t know what I am going to do if something happens to that baby. She is my whole world.” Gregory nodded. Nelle had two daughters. The eldest, named Charlotte, who everyone called Charlie, had moved away several years before. Gregory knew from the gossip around town that Charlie had just been married and was working as a florist in Tuscaloosa. She was happy and successful by all accounts. Nelle’s other daughter, Rose, was living at home with her mother. Rose’s husband was a truck driver who spent many weeks on the road. Rose had one child, the little girl Nicole who had been conceived during a difficult time in Rose’s marriage. In fact she and her husband Paul had been on the brink of divorce when she found out she was pregnant. They decided to stay together for the sake of the baby. Nicole would have a father in her life. The marriage was still difficult for both parties but they did the best they could to keep up appearances.
“I think she will be okay, Nelle, you know. They have her stabilized and they are taking her to the hospital. She is in good hands. Right now, we need to get you to see the medic to make sure you are alright.” Gregory took her arm and escorted her to another ambulance that was checking out other members of the household for injuries.
Gregory walked toward his Chief to give his report. Chief Thompson was a burly man in his late 50’s with thick red hair that covered most of his body. His chest was broad and his waist was small giving one the impression of a Saturday morning cartoon superhero. “Good job!” He gave him a hearty slap on the back so hard that Gregory, who was a well build young man in his early 30's had to catch his breath. He replied with a winded thank you and a just doing my job, and then the Chief asked, “You got in and out so fast. How did you know where the kid would be?”
Gregory looked down at the ground and sheepishly said, “Well, Sir, I have been in that house before.” Chief eyebrows rose in realization and then his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. He lowered his head and muttered; “Oh yes, that’s right” and then the two parted to get about the business of post fire clean-up.
© Copyright 2016 Nora Douglas. All rights reserved.
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