the sirens of the fire engine were shrieking ever louder until they rounded the corner leading into our cul de sac, when they fell silent. i don’t know why i noticed that the spinning lights on top of the engine seemed to blend with the warm shadows cast on the scene of our neighborhood by what was fast becoming the remains of our house.
it was just after dusk in early september, and a late summer rain was making a weak effort to help extinguish my worst nightmare. the pavement was glistening and i could see the reflection of our mailbox silhouetted by the dancing glow from behind it, making the whole thing seem like an illusion. like david blaine might give me a wink, because i was his special helper, as he lifted the dark sheet of cement to reveal that everything was as normal. but nothing seemed normal.
when things are normal, our house is second from the end on the left, behind the mailbox that says number 17. in the garden our irises stand in a tall, proud cluster, reveling a second late-summer bloom. the neighbors are jealous but don’t say so. an iris plant grows easily but mom doesn’t say so. she is also proud. she came here from japan to study at college, where she met dad. japan is very far away and i have only been there once but i don’t remember it. when things are normal, we are inside the house having dinner right now. mom has put on what she calls her relax music. she tells us it is a cantata by bach. i like to call him batch because that’s what his name looks like. i am eating the mashed potatoes with the gravy that looks like brown jell because i am being good, and hana is trying to kick me under the table in secret because she is being bad. we are both hoping to manage being good enough to get our favorite, M&Ms, for dessert, when we always fight over who gets to have the yellow ones that make you smarter, and only end up getting a couple before dad takes them away and sends us to do our homework. dad says homework makes you smarter. hana’s homework isn’t real. she’s only 4. my homework is real because i am 8. i am the older brother and that is an important job. that’s another thing dad says, when things are normal. right now i wish my job was being david blaine’s special helper but it’s not. right now my job is don’t cry. i am not doing a good job.
i don’t think mom is doing a good job either but it’s hard to tell in the rain if those are tears on her smooth porcelain cheeks. she is expressionless as she stares at house number 17. i don’t think she is thinking about david blaine because she does not believe in magic. she says what she believes in is hard work. in one hand she is holding on tightly to her old brown handbag, and in her other hand is hana. hana is holding on to her leg. she never does a good job with don’t cry. i don’t know if that’s because she is a girl or because she is 4. i don’t remember 4. that’s when i went to japan and saw my oba-chan. that was a very long time ago. i wasn’t even a big brother then.
my oba-chan is a shinto but i am not. i think that is weird because i have two shins and ten toes just like oba-chan, but mom says this is not what makes you a shinto. oba-chan believes you have to keep away the evil spirits who do evil things. right now when things do not seem normal, i think she is probably right. we didn’t do anything to keep away evil spirits and now our house is on fire. mom and dad say things have to be proved by science. maybe the fire fighters will use science to prove that we are right, oba-chan and me. i feel very worried because all of my things are inside our house with the evil spirits. my homework, my M&Ms, my stomp rocket, and my…
just then i see a different kind of movement in the bright hot smoke. it is orange and brown but it is not fire. it is furry and limping down the short driveway, past the drooping irises and the shining fire engine, towards us. it’s KAMI! i had almost forgotten about our cat! mom gasps when she sees her, i think she almost forgot too. she limps towards kami with hana still attached to her leg and scoops up the singed cat, who doesn’t run away like when things are normal. mom reaches in her handbag and pulls something out for kami. for a second i think it is a yellow M&M, but it can’t be because mom says M&Ms are not for cats. i never give kami the yellow ones anyway because dad says kami is too smart for her own good. kami slowly takes the thing that is not a yellow M&M from mom’s hand and eats it. mom sighs and looks up to the sky, and in the dark i barely see her porcelain cheek flicker upwards in a brief smile. in that moment somehow i know that while things are not normal right now, some day they will be again.