Posts Tagged smoke

Excerpt 151


Her legs weakened.  The line was long and the people seemed to be closing in on her, threatening to swallow her up. She tried to fan herself with her ticket, but the paper was too flimsy to have any affect.

The line seemed to be stopped and she couldn’t see far ahead enough to tell what the hold up was.  Her stomach twisted and she felt light-headed. She should have eaten. The tea was not enough. Between the flight, the letter and the farewell from Danno, she was ready to pass out. She put her hand on the man’s back in front of her, trying to steady herself.  He turned around and gave her a dirty look. His wife began yelling at her in another language.  People turned and stared.

“I’m sorry,” she said, but the woman continued to yell, getting closer to her face. Ala could smell remnants of meat on her breath. Ala’s eyes watered as she felt the fullness make it’s way up her throat.  With chipmunk cheeks, she ran out of the line down the hall in the direction she remembered the restroom to be.

There was still a line outside of the ladies room, so she ran into the men’s room and vomited, missing the stall by three feet.  She got down on all fours and closed her eyes. She needed to lie down. She needed to eat. She needed someone to tell her that she could make it through the flight if she just stood up, rinsed out her mouth and boarded.

She stared at the puddle. Because she was so hungry, it was mostly frothy bile.  She carefully rose to her feet and grabbed a stack of paper towels.  She threw them onto the mess and tried to wipe up as much as she could with her foot.  The nausea returned and she lied down on her stomach, letting her face rest on the freezing tile.

Her phone rang, and very slowly, she sat up and took it out of her bag.  It was Jase calling. She chose to ignore him.  Once again she stood up and kicked the soggy paper towels into the corner.  She had to get to her seat as quickly as possible.  She could relax then, and possibly even get some sleep.

Leaving the restroom, she realized that she had left her suitcase at the gate. This panic brought her to a jog even though she still felt like crawling.  The boarding area was empty. She read the monitor to make sure she was in the right place for the flight.  Her suitcase was gone. She looked under the row of seats . She went to the personnel desk, but no one was there to help.

It appeared that she had missed last call for boarding the plane.  There would have been announcements, but she wouldn’t have been able to hear them while vomiting. She had gotten to the gate as quickly as possible.  She would have to find Danno and see if there was a way she could switch to his flight instead.  She would also need to report her missing suitcase. She tried to remember if anything valuable was packed inside.

All she could think of was a brooch her mother had given her when she was seven years old.  They were Christmas shopping in the city in the middle of a blizzard.  The lady who helped Ala’s mother take care of her was supposed to go with to carry bags, but had gotten the flu.  It was a very special day for Ala. She and her mother had lunch in the tearoom and she was permitted to order off of the full menu, rather than the children’s portion.  They had bought presents for relatives who would be coming in for the holiday, back when Ala’s mother still invited people to come stay.

They hurried through the street, struggling to grip the bags blowing all in directions and made it to the revolving door of the grand department store. This was their last stop of the day. They both laughed with relief as soon as the warm air hit their faces with the rich new perfumes of the season surrounding them, and stepped onto the escalator.

Ala’s mother tried to untangle her purse strap from the cluster of bag handles, when the brooch on her coat fell off. Ala knew this was a gift from her grandmother and followed it with her eyes as it fell against the slatted step.

Ala looked up and saw the steps being swallowed, one by one, as they reached the top. She quickly crouched down to grab the brooch before it fell through the grate. Her small fingers gripped the gilded edge of the large pearl encrusted plate just as her mother turned to see what she was doing.

“Ala! Are you crazy?” Her mother yelled, grabbing the arm of Ala’s coat and yanking her up and off of the last step. She shook her shoulders hard.  “Do you want to get your hand cut off?”  Ala had no idea the escalator was dangerous.  She held out her hand to reveal the brooch, which had pierced and was stuck in the palm of her hand.

“I wanted to save it for you,” she whispered, now embarrassed at the few shoppers watching them.

“That?” her mother scoffed, “Keep it. It’s fake. Come on!”

Ala didn’t realize her mother had meant that the large pearl in the center was not an actual pearl, but painted plastic. She had thought it was the most beautiful piece of jewelry she had ever seen and loved it because her grandmother had loved it. She swallowed hard to avoid crying and pulled the needle from her hand. She followed her mother into housewares, shoving the brooch into her pocket.

She found a seat facing the wall of windows, and slouched down, watching the planes take off. Now the brooch was with whoever stole her suitcase. Even if she reported it missing, she knew she wouldn’t get it back.  She felt violated at the thought of someone looking through her underwear.

The plane she was supposed to be on backed out and taxied down the tarmac.  Ala opened her purse to make sure that her passport, license and the check from Emmanuel were still inside.  It would be inconceivably difficult to leave the airport, had her identification been in her suitcase.

A woman screamed, throwing her hands to her mouth and pointing to the window. Ala whipped her head around to see the fluffy clouds of black smoke floating up from the bright orange flames shooting out under the right wing of the plane.  She stood up slowly and pressed her face against the glass.

An emergency chute sprung out and one by one, like wind up toy soldiers, tiny figures slid down and ran. There was a loud pop and people gathered around her at the window in time to see the large fire cloud engulf the plane, flames snaking both wings and all sides. Banging on the glass and screaming continued as Ala squinted ahead, trying to make sense of what was happening. Fire engines and squad cars surrounded the dying star, and the few who had escaped huddled together.

Running commenced with people going in all directions, crashing into one another.  She didn’t know what to do or who to call. She would’ve been dead had she made it on in time. At least she had been with him one last time. She heard people shouting and shoes squeaking, babies crying and whistles blowing.  She could smell smoke and wasn’t sure if it was from the cigarette she had or the world ending outside.

Danger had followed her.  She wasn’t safe being who she was. Her phone rang.  She took it out of her bag and, without looking to see who was calling, tossed it in the trashcan, along with her ticket.  She put her sunglasses on and looking straight ahead, walked quickly toward the exit of the airport.

 

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Excerpt 143


After Danno wrote the license plate number on a slip of paper, he folded it into her hand and opened the car door for her. Being hot in the patrol car agitated Ala.  The windows in the back were broken and unable to roll down.  She, however, didn’t feel comfortable sitting in the front seat with Cliff. She watched through the back window as Danno retrieved the folder from the car and locked it.

On the grove, there was a wedding party mingling while a photographer set up to take photographs. The bride was swathed in white chiffon with a floral headpiece.  A plucky woman, most likely her mother, hurried and held a drumstick in front of the bride’s mouth, on which the bride nibbled carefully. The mother then blotted her lips with a napkin. A bridesmaid followed closely behind the bride, fluffing her gown. There was a trainer hooking up horse to a carriage that the groom was already sitting in the back of, smoking a cigar.

Ala pressed her head into the back seat and closed her eyes. She was nauseous from the excitement during the short day so far.  There was the plane she would have to board, filled with stale air, which would also make her queasy.  The car stopped.

“Well, here we are,” Cliff said, opening her door.

“Is this report even going to do any good?” Ala said.

“If the woman comes back here it will.”

The building smelled like heated tar and the hallways needed to be cleaned. Overhead lights buzzed and several flies floated along, seeming to bounce off the walls with no way out.  A woman sat behind a counter, writing out a list and blowing her frizzed blonde curls away from her eyes. There were curly cues of smoke climbing up from a cigarette in ashtray on her desk. 
Since she was the only person that seemed to be around Ala decided to approach.

“I’m here to file a report,” she said.

The woman kept writing for an extra second, hoping Ala would see that she was busy and not disturb her. She turned her head slowly, revealing a scar underneath her eye.

“Oh yeah, Cliff called over.  I’m Arlene.”

“Wow.  Hi, I’ve been meaning to call you and thank you for finding my wallet,” Ala said.

Arlene’s eyes widened as she pushed the notepad aside.

“So, you got your wallet back?”

“Yes. It was dropped off.” She remembered the pang in her stomach she felt when she saw Danno step out of the car for the first time.

Arlene nodded rapidly, picking up her cigarette and inhaling a little too long.

“Sure.  Yeah, of course.  Sometimes people around here will just go ahead and return lost items, if there’s identification.  Just to make it easier.” The last sentence sounded as if Arlene was trying to make herself believe it.

The tiny white hairs, Ala imagined to be on the back of her neck, sprung up.  Her wallet was stolen from this office. Arlene had forgotten, or hoped Ala had picked it up when she was off duty.  Either way, Arlene wasn’t sure the wallet was ever returned, which meant that Danno had taken it without permission.

“I think I left something in the car,” she said, backing away from the desk.

“Oh, let me call Cliff,” Arlene said, picking up the receiver.

Ala turned and left the office, and struggled for air down the hallway.  She saw a restroom and threw her weight against the door.  She turned on a creaking faucet, and made sure the water was cold, before splashing her face.

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Excerpt 127


No alarm went off. Nor did anyone come to the door.  The fire burned on, eating her shoe, with no sign of its hunger being satisfied.  She coughed, pressed her chin against her chest and squeezed her eyes shut. She felt like there was smoke trapped under her eyelids and had to open them, only to let more smoke in, making them itch.

She decided she would need her hands free in order to control the fire, or to simply keep from dying from smoke inhalation.  She walked closer to the flames and turned her back to them.  Squatting down, she lowered her wrists just above the flames, trying to singe the rope.  Her skin burned, as she tried to keep her balance and not fall backwards into the fire.

She moved her wrists apart and then together rapidly, trying to snap the weakened rope.  She coughed and tears dripped from her eyes, which slowly seemed to shrivel up from the smoke. She saw the man rise and stagger closer to the fire.

“Stop. Don’t do that,” she said, before remembering that he did not speak English.  Surely, his sense of touch would indicate that it was hot, therefore dangerous, but he continued forward until his foot landed in the flames.

She ran over and tried to push him out of the way with her shoulder.  He was very strong and would not budge.  She leaned into him and pushed harder until he stumbled away.  She looked down to see that his shoe had caught on fire.  He must not have realized it yet, because he remained quiet.  Ala bent once again with her wrists over the fire and continued to work the rope.

The man began to scream. He jumped around the room as his trousers lit up. She smelled what she could only imagine to be burning skin and flesh. She pulled apart as hard as she could and the rope fell off.  The skin on her arms was numb and she could not bring herself to look at them.  She immediately tackled the man to the ground, trying to snuff out the fire with her bare legs.  The man struggled with her, thinking she was trying to hurt him.  The flames engulfed his shirt and she had to keep from getting more burns.

He hit himself on the chest and continued to scream.  Ala laid on her stomach as low to the ground as possible, and looked around the room to see what else she could use to put the fire out.  She knew she had used everything she had to fuel it.  And now it wasn’t stopping and no one was coming.

 

 

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Excerpt 126


She knelt down and picked up the cardboard cover with her teeth, being careful not to moisten the matched. Ala had always been afraid of fire.  She refused to sit anywhere near her parent’s fireplace or any fire pits their friend’s had in their backyards.  When she was very young, her father left the grill on after removing hamburgers for a party they were hosting.  Ala had always wanted to help him cook on it and was always told she could not.  She lifted the lid and watched the coals infused with orange and blue flames change colors.  It was wondrous to her, something beautiful she had never seen and she reached in to touch it.  She lost feeling in three of her fingers and had to visit the emergency room.

There was no other option. She would have to create smoke and hope that it would reach an alarm.  She went to the pile of her hair and kicked it into a pile.  She dropped the matches and sat down next to them.  Without any visibility, the grabbed the booklet with one hand and brought two fingers over from her other hand to rip a match out.  She then laid the match on the ground and scooted onto her stomach.  The saliva on her tongue adhered to the match, but she soon realized that she would not be able to strike it without the tip bending. She slid it further into her mouth until her teeth hit just above where the tip began.

She kept her eyes wide open and speedily dragged the match over the rough cement. She heard the whisper crack and knew it was light.  She dropped it on the pile of hair.  While pungent, very little smoke floated up out of the flames.  The man must have smelled it because he whimpered and clutched his knees tightly against his chest.

It took five seconds for the fire to burn out, leaving a black smear on the concrete.  Discouraged, Ala walked over to the door.  It looked sealed, but she could see light through roughly one half inch of space at the bottom.  Smoke could seep through if there was enough of it.

She kicked her shoes, clothes and purse into a heap close to the door.  She then feared not being able to get out of the room at all if there was a fire barrier in place, and kicked everything to the center of the room.  Sweat dripped down her chest.  She began to feel faintish again from the lack of food, water and sleep on top of the high level of energy it took to move things back and forth without her hands.

When the pile was ready, she once again, sat on the ground, ripped out a match, turned on her stomach and positioned her head just so.  She struck the tip against the ground and tossed it toward the only possessions she had with her.  Her shorts caught on fire and then her bag. The flames were stronger and larger this time.  Smoke billowed up to the ceiling and the man began to cough.  She tried to hold her breath, as she could not use her hands to shield her airways from the smoke.  The fire roared, now being fueled by the whole pile. It was much more powerful than she expected.  She stepped back, watching the smoke make its way out of the crevice between the door and floor.

“Where are they?” She said.  “Come on.”

 

 

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