Prompt Day #245: Place a deaf person in a burning building. First sentence: “(S)he didn’t hear the alarm.”
When I read this prompt initially, I had no idea whatsoever of what I would do with it. I mean, geez, where do you go from there. She/he is deaf and doesn’t hear a fire alarm in a burning building. Wouldn’t they eventually figure it out? I mean, they can see and smell, right? People around them might warn them. Where was the story in that? And then, all of a sudden, I saw this old woman in her little home and she is a hoarder. I love that TLC show and have probably seen every one of them, so the details weren’t hard, I’ve seen every one (except the last one) on the show. I still wasn’t sure what the story would be though, I figured I’d start rooting around in all that stuff and I’d find it eventually. Usually, all you find is trash but this one, I think, is a keeper. Yes, I’m keeping that, put it in the keep pile.
She didn’t hear the alarm. Even if she had, Evelyn Riggs would not have escaped the fire. At the age of seventy-two, being deaf was the least of her handicaps. She couldn’t smell much anymore, the smell of rot and decay overpowered everything else and by now, she was immune to it. Also, she wasn’t as limber as she used to be, so climbing over the mass of accumulated possessions, trash, and food stuffs was becoming more and more hazardous. She was all alone in the world; Paula, her only child, no longer had anything to do with her and Al was dead ten years now. There was Sheba, of course, but Ev hadn’t seen Sheba in a while, truth was, the cat might be dead.
No one really knew how bad it was, renters of the other half of the house never stayed long and she and Al had managed to keep the hoard inside. They owned the home itself so they’d stayed undetected all these years.
Ev shooed away a rat that was up on the counter; its nose lifted up sniffing as if to attempt to smell something above the wretched stink of the place. It leapt to the floor and ran off without a fight. She was surprised, they usually bared their teeth and insisted on staying where they were, usually chewing away at something one of them had dragged out of the half open refrigerator. Odd, she thought but she needed to take her daily bird bath in the kitchen sink (the only sink still accessible) before her meals on wheels arrived.
Once cleaned up, she climbed over a hill of magazines into the living room. On the far side of the room, she kept a pile of clothes the base of which formed a small bed where she and Sheba (when she was still around) slept. The pile of clothes abutted the wall shared with the other half of the duplex. Evelyn noticed the increased temperature of the room before she saw the smoke seeming to emerge from the wall. She crawled over the uneven waves of boxes and books to touch the smoking border. It was hot. Something was very wrong here.
She began to clap her hands. Sheba had long ago learned it was her mistress’s only way of communicating to her. If she could save Sheba, she would but had little hope of finding her; it had been at least a month now. Ev stopped clapping. She began to dig through the stack of clothes, somewhere down near the bottom she would find one of her church dresses. She never wore them anymore of course, but kept a couple handy just in case the need arose. She saw the black and white pattern peeking out and pulled. The stack came tumbling down on her. The fall initiated another avalanche, this time it was plastic bins of old video tapes and craft supplies.
The smoke was getting thick now, filling the room that held the treasures amassed through the last fifty years. She quickly undressed and slipped the polyester frock over her head. In her younger days, she wouldn’t have dared before first putting on her hose, girdle and slip, but there wasn’t time for that now. She briefly considered putting the boxes back but the air was getting thick and she had no intentions of dying here.
Climbing the still intact pile on the other side of the room, her hand fell on a soft, furry lump and when she put more weight on that hand the fur gave way like a bruised fruit. She felt her fingers slip into the cold, dead, half-eaten corpse of Sheba. She instinctively pulled back and slipped down the mound, falling backwards into her make-shift bed. She was coughing, could barely breathe. There were flames now working on the wall in the same way the rats had worked on Sheba. Without looking at her hand, she wiped it on the mountain of clothes before starting her assent once more.
Coughing and choking she worked her way over the man-made heap and into the hallway. She hadn’t been down that way for years. This meant there was much less debris to get over and that was a good thing. Even so, this was more exertion than she was used to and with less oxygen available it was nearly impossible. Evelyn kept her eyes on the end of the hallway only a few feet away. She could make it. She dropped to her hands and knees to stay under the black smoke filling up her home. The floor sagged under her weight and the swampy carpet left brown stains on the knees of her dress. She had no choice though, the septic tank had backed up some time ago filling the hallway with its muck. If she wanted to reach the door, she had to get wet and pray the floor held up until she got there.
She felt the heat on her heels. She dared not look back. Reaching the door, finally, she hesitantly grasped the knob. It was cool to the touch. She sobbed. Thank God, she’d made it. She opened the door.
The air was stale but cool and she drew a deep breath. Using the small stand by the door where Al always emptied his pockets, she helped herself up. There he was, lying on the bed, just as she’d left him ten years ago. He was much thinner now, cheeks sunken in and his white hair liked like a fluff of cotton on his head. His jaw hung open in a silent laugh at the sight of her. She walked over to the bed and curled up beside him. Now the fire could come and take what it wanted. She’d managed to keep it all with her for her entire life, and now, if she could, she would take it all with her as well.