I allowed myself an extra helping of mashed potatoes the evening my neighborhood turned to smoke and flame. I scooped a soft, dense, rich, buttery mound onto my plate and sat at a table three hundred miles away as my neighbors gathered and snapped pictures of the tragedy. Red and orange and yellow danced and swayed and cast sinister shadows across their fearful, gleeful faces. Isn’t it odd how fire can bring forth the most contrasting emotions?
I watched reruns of The Office with my roommate the evening an elderly couple linked hands and wept over the loss of the icecream counter they had visited on their first date. I guess they had believed they would be gone before the scratched, worn, memory drenched counter where they had shared their first sweet, sticky kiss burst into a million hues of red and yellow. I guess they didn’t think they’d ever feel such pain for a counter. It’s funny how people seem to grieve for objects more than for one another. I wonder if the old woman had let out such heart wrenching sobs when she buried her son last year. Or maybe she knows that after the counter she must be next.
I set my alarm for the next morning as people poured from their warm, safe apartments and sang a mournful funeral song over the rapidly piling ashes. Amazing Grace or Glory Hallelujah or Amen Amen Amen. Maybe it was less singing and just collective prayer. The ambulances that lined up at the scene were for the firemen, boys just a bit older than I pouring water on their memories. But the buildings housed no people, just icecream counters and bank ATMs and plastic tables and wine bottles and probably a Bible or two. I wonder if people would have gathered if there were people trapped inside those flames. Or would that have been too much tragedy to face? I wonder what the singing and prayers would have sounded like if there had been screams to accompany it.
My mom texted me pictures and the words ‘there’s a fire down the block’. No emotion, just pictures. She huddled with her neighbors and texted me pictures and thanked goodness that I was three hundred miles away. I wonder if she understood that her pictures brought the tragedy to my safe campus. While my neighbors wept and photographed and remembered and prayed and sang my extra mashed potatoes and The Office Reruns and my dorm room set ablaze. We can’t run from the fires forever.
Gill Friedlander, Untitled, Microsoft word processor with the early starts on a piece of scrap paper
American, b. 1994, playing from New York City, NY, USA
I am an undergraduate student finishing a degree in English Studies. I have written poetry for a few years and enjoying writing, but this is my first published piece. Any questions, concerns, or musings can be sent to me via my email address at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts on the Telephone process
I was thrilled to be accepted into the project, but felt a little underqualified when I received the piece I was to be translating. However, I loved the challenge of interpreting someone else’s work and putting the themes and ideas into my own words (literally). It was interesting to attempt and bridge a mixed media piece with poetry and I’m excited to see the project in its entirety!