Fashion to die for.
flames grow closer by the minute as door
drapery erupts, then upholstery, leaping
from one seat to the next in a row
before advancing to another. The dim
wall lights have gone out, the only
illumination coming from the flames,
muted by thick, dark smoke. You're
hemmed in on all sides by many dozens of
people, pushing and grasping, their
frenzy apace with their fear.
They're frantic to find loved ones,
frantic to escape. Some try to get
closer to the door, others struggle to
free themselves from the crowd and reach
a different exit.
"Open the doors!" "Let us out!" are
interspersed with occasional cries of
"Put it out! Oh, my God, put it out!"
and sometimes with blood-curdling
Next to you is
your daughter, crying and hanging on
your arm. "Mama I'm scared, what is
happening, Mama?!" You want desperately
to soothe her, protect her, but in the
back of your mind is worry about your
mother. Is she in the crowd behind you,
among those pushing everyone forward?
You had to help your daughter first,
Mama knew that. She said, "You take her,
I'll get out," But did she make it up
the aisle? Was she one of the hundreds
of voices crying out in the darkness?
Was that her? You want to cling to her,
as your daughter clings to you, to
protect her as well as your daughter.
"Mama, are you there?"
Your voice is
weak and thin, a bare whisper stuttered
out between shallow, panting breaths.
You try to cough out the thickening
smoke to clear your throat so you can
suck in more air but can't draw deep
enough breaths for your coughs to expel
more than faint puffs. You tear at your
dress, pulling at the buttons, your
hands clawed and grasping awkwardly
because the crowd is so densely packed
that your elbows are pinned close to
your body at a poor angle to work the
buttons, but you must! You have to
get to the damned corset fasteners so
your lungs can expand to let you breath
more deeply. You would tear a hole
in your chest if you had a knife. Your
daughter screams as her hair catches
fire. With your final breath you
reach out with one hand to bat at her
hair, mewing, "Help! Help us!"