He had lived in the burning house since he was born. Fifteen frantic years. He kept trying to tell his family that the whole place was on fire.
“The house is on fire. We’ll be burned alive. Everything’s going up in flames.” He flailed at the smoke edging beneath a closet door, at the kitchen counter where dish towels blazed in a small bonfire. “My baseball cards. Your stamps, for god’s sake. Your recipe files. Your Chatty Cathy doll,” he told them, depending on whether it was his father or mother or sister. “Call the fire department!”
His mother would shrug and finish wringing out her stockings in the bathroom sink, leaving them to dry near the licking flames. His father, asleep with his younger sister, Susie, in her twin bed, never answered at all.
No one spoke unless it was a request for something.
Save a little hot water for the rest of us, will you? You’ve been in there for half an hour. Don’t reach for the potatoes, tell your brother to pass them.
And brush your hair out of your eyes. Stop eating so much, you’re getting fat. Take the umbrella, it’s sure to rain. Better yet, get a decent haircut. Help me out here, would you, she’s the only grandmother you’ve got, for god’s sake. Give me a tissue. Fix my doll, she won’t talk anymore. Don’t get sick.
Show some respect for your mother. Would you fuckin’ call the fire department. Give me more potatoes. Don’t you dare curse at your father.
Get a job, a good one, then get the hell out. Make some money. Give me a proper kiss. Come out of Susie’s room, if you’re still in there, it’s time for you and me to go to bed. You’re so stuck on your mother, then go live with her in that nursing home. Quit smoking so much. How many’s that today, a pack already? If you’re going out, bring some tissues back.
Eventually, he stored his baseball cards in the garage, a safe distance from the blazing house.
No one knew who called the fire department. The sirens circled through the night like buzzards nearing their feast. By then, he was faint with smoke inhalation. Oddly, though the entire house went down, the flames never burned their skin. They all escaped with one of their requests at last fulfilled.
His father kicked through the smoldering embers in search of his stamp collection and uncovered Chatty Cathy’s wind-up key, the only surviving item. It was still smoldering.