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How no one died, I can’t guess. A five-alarm fire, and as far as I can tell, no one was even injured. On the television, images of the firefighters alternate with depictions of the wrecked buildings, black and crumbling. There is a radius around the disaster zone where the heat melted the snow and ice. Further away, where the heat had less of an effect, a layer of soot blankets the snow. The firefighters, in their big yellow coats, poke through the remains, making sure no spark is left to reignite. I would have thought the snow would have been some protection for the buildings; a natural sprinkler system activated once the roofs caved in. But the snow evaporated too quickly, and the cold froze water in the pipes before it could reach the blaze. Somehow, everyone got out in time.
When I mention to Tia that it’s like some kind of miracle, she gives me a look. She begins to talk about people losing their homes, their livelihoods. She tells me that the apartments there were large but fairly affordable—good for families.
“Can’t they rebuild?” I ask.
“Eventually. But where are they going to live until then?”
I hadn’t thought of that. Tia sees deeper into the situation than I do. There’s a kind of double-loss that happened last night. Some people lost their homes. Some people lost their buildings, their merchandise, their incomes. It occurs to me that insurance will help a number of these victims to re-establish themselves, but Tia probably has a rejoinder to that as well. I don’t bother bringing it up.
The Lair is busy, which is rare at this hour, between the morning rush and lunchtime. I’m not in my usual spot. Instead, I’m sitting on a chair in a corner. I’ve been planted here since I showed up after work to find Tia standing outside offering coffee to the few passersby. Now, there’s a bustle that I’m not used to; a number of regulars have shown up to talk about what has happened, and to see if there’s any way to mobilize. These people are combative. They protest wars, and write letters raging against injustice. Now they’re ineffectually noisy. Who can you take to task over a fire? It seems that there’s little to do except blow smoke. Tia’s comforting some patrons, calming others. She seems to sense the state of everyone’s nerves: shaken and scared, or helpless and angry. It’s like the insecurities of the city have gathered under one roof, and Tia has taken it upon herself to ease the pain. She’s been pouring coffee, and not taking payment. Instead there’s a jar collecting cash for the victims. An offering. There’s a woman on the TV explaining that she fled her home in her pyjamas, and a stranger gave her the thick brown jacket she’s now wearing. She has a sister she can stay with in Hamilton, although she can’t articulate why she hasn’t left yet. She’s waiting to see what happens, even though there hasn’t really been anything to see for the past few hours.
Tia shakes me awake. She tells me to go home, I’m getting in the way. So I go.
I wish I were exhausted, that I could fall right into sleep. Instead, I toss and turn. I get up and open the window. A blast of frigid air strikes my face. I breathe it in, imagining frost patterns forming along the walls of my lungs. Leaving the window open, I get back into bed. This time, I fall asleep. A child that would look like me if I had a big toothless grin, rides a bike in the summertime. Her curls an anemone. Then suddenly she is gone, and a TV reporter explains that although no one has died, it will take some time to rebuild.