A deadly fire destroyed a home in Pittston early this morning, leaving six homeless and one dead. Firefighters managed to contain the blaze, but the home is in ruins. Police were unable to determine the cause of the fire but do not suspect foul play…
I muted the old television as the kitchen phone rang. The endless slew of fire and murder could wait a few minutes. Few people called our house phone, deciding to use my husband Rob’s cell or mine. An image of a large, tanned man appeared on the screen as I picked up the receiver. He looked about thirty, likely foreign. Arrested for murder, the headline proclaimed. At least it wasn’t another arson charge. Those seemed endless. I returned my attention to the phone.
“Hello?” I answered. Silence replied on the other end.
“The offices of your local representative would like to remind you to vote …” a monotone voice droned. I spared the machine a few minutes of its battery life and hung up. Those skeeves didn’t have the nerve or decency to promote themselves, so they made a robot do it. Playing House couldn’t take too much time out of their busy schedules. It didn’t matter which one of those liars I chose in the booth. We’d still be stuck in a rut full of bad roads and robo-calls.
I returned to the couch and unmuted the television. A barrage of advertisements for local and corporate businesses blared from the weak speakers. My hands wrapped around the mug of lukewarm coffee sitting on the end table. It brought back memories of late college nights and hammering out papers until 3 a.m. How many nights had passed since then? Thousands? I wonder what became of those other panicked, oversexed kids. Perhaps they remember the heaters breaking in the dorm or fleeing to the library to escape a night of hypothermia. I bet they’re happier than I am.
Once the news ended, I pushed myself off the couch and walked to the shower. There was no reason or place to look presentable. Most days, I didn’t bother changing out of my sleep clothes until late in the afternoon. Bills and cooking hardly require business casual. I checked the heat: 69 degrees. Why did I feel so cold? Rob said I’d get used to Pennsylvania’s long winters after the first one. Fifteen disproved his theory. I hated the endless sheets of black ice covering the roads, the barren, gray skies pressing down on us, and the hard, bitter people telling me to stop complaining.
The rest of the world forgot this place the minute the coal ran out. Many of the children abandoned their relics of families to wither away while they found a better life; industry died with the coal. Who could blame them for leaving?
Somehow, this place blinded Rob with its rolling hills and seemingly bountiful opportunities. I remember his young, tanned face glowing with excitement as he told me about the lovely town near his contractor’s headquarters, with its little shops and friendly people. When did we have that conversation? I remember we still lived in New Mexico, near Santa Fe. I’d graduated from my Master’s program, and he’d begun working for a small upstart designer outside the city. We lived on the edge of the city in a small house not much bigger than an apartment. Around us stretched the desert and miles of endless sand and sky. I sat on the porch every morning, writing a few words before work and admiring the sunrise. He’d come behind me and press a cup of coffee between my hands, kissing the back of my neck. I swear, that man knew how to make me blush.
What happened to that life? How many winters killed those memories? Does Santa Fe still exist?
I walked to the fridge and scanned the shelves of leftovers: nothing for dinner tonight. Time to go to the store. Hopefully I could beat the lunch rush. I pulled on some clothes and a coat and dragged myself to the ancient Taurus sitting in the driveway. Jamming the key in the ignition, the car coughed to life and pushed a feeble wave of warm air out of the main vents. Please don’t break. Repairs, like every other basic necessity, meant coughing up more money we didn’t have. I resigned myself to sit in the cold and drove out of our development and into the dingy streets, jostled up and down by countless unrepaired potholes.
Arriving at the market, I grabbed a small cart and pushed my way through the all-too familiar white tiled floors. What did I need here? Right, some kind of meat for dinner. I walked back to the meat coolers, crossing my fingers for something on sale. Something jammed into my heel, pushing me forward into the main aisle. An older man in a plaid shirt and suspenders drove his cart around me, glaring at me.
“Quit blocking the way,” he growled in a dense, scratchy voice, muttering something about stupid yuppies under his breath. I began to apologize, then stopped myself and walked toward the meat. I had nothing to say to him. I glanced over the rows of steak and ground beef for something affordable, forcing myself away from the poultry section. I could hear Rob’s voice nagging in my head.
“Chicken again? We always have that. Can’t we have something different?”
If he wanted something different, he could leave this hellhole and cook it himself. Chicken was buy one get one free. He would have to live with it. I chose two packs from the shelf and dropped them in my cart, walking aimlessly down the aisles for a while. Cold air slipped beneath my coat and made my skin crawl. Even in buildings, the cold air manages to suck the life from me. I loaded my items onto the checkout counter, handing my membership card to the cashier. A loud crash sounded from the aisle next to us. The old man grumbled about something.
“Stupid bitch,” he snapped. “Can’t even bag a damned carton of eggs. I bet this was the only job you could get. You should be ashamed.”
The cashier and I exchanged a glance of understanding and exasperation. She asked me if I wanted paper or plastic. Paper would suffice. I had ten cents off of gas. She thanked me, and I responded in turn. The old man stared at me, twisting his old, wrinkled face into a mask of contempt. I ignored him for now and walked to the parking lot.
Hours later, I stood outside of a small house 15 miles from my own. My husband barely heard me leave after he fell asleep on our couch to the sound of failed propaganda and too many opinions. Beneath the streetlights, I could barely see the stars. The wind blew gusts of warm air onto my body, feeding the blaze that engulfed the small ranch house. A small grin came over my face as the sirens wailed three streets down. Walking away from my handiwork, I remembered bonfires in the desert, piping hot coffee and the barbecue chicken I’d eaten earlier that evening. They kindled a small fire in me, enough to comfort me in the frigid Taurus. Even with a broken heater, the car felt like Santa Fe.
An early morning fire destroyed the home of an elderly man in Luzerne County. Firefighters say that seventy-five-year old Joseph Kowalchek lost his home around 11 p.m. last night. They were unable to determine a cause, but suspect that the blaze started because of some paper bags left near a gas stove he’d forgotten to turn off. Kowalchek remains in stable condition and did not wish to comment on the fire.