: Burnt :

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an excerpt by Karen Siegel

A winter morning, 2003: Stirring oatmeal, letting Al Roker’s banter distract from my sister-in-law’s fresh death and my faraway sick mother’s plight, I abruptly glanced over my left shoulder to locate an unfamiliar noise. Wide, high flames were the disturbance—rising from that shoulder and resembling a cartoonist’s hell…sleeve caught fire? no cloth burns that fast…Snapping off the oatmeal burner, I dove from the kitchen and rolled. Rolling, I struggled to untie the belt of my blazing kimono, but bows can turn to knots when you’re rolling.

Pace common wisdom, rolling didn’t work. Fire towered above me; my task was to wrestle down this tiger. Or die…my son, my loves, I can’t never see them again…Still, I made one minuscule pause: Sitting straight up, I mouthed the word “help” knowing none could be forthcoming—husband out of town, door triple-locked from inside. Even if I wasted time screaming, by the time anyone rounded up the super and he came and broke down the door I’d be literally toast. No, it was show time, inferno just a piece of cake, smother its oxygen, fast.