Minutes after the television exploded, my mother emerged out of the doorway of the house, clutching what she could: the photo albums, her jewelry box, a paperback with an illegible spine, and a pair of bronze-plated baby shoes. She was panting wildly, strands of cement-colored hair clinging to the sweat on her forehead. She could barely hold her head up to look at my father, who was rushing back from the Cooper's house next door.
"You went back in," he said. "Why did you go back in?"
"My God," said my mother, wiping the hair off her face with a shaky palm, "I need to sit down." But she remained standing, swaying. The northeast corner of the house radiated with flames. One of the bedroom windows was broken, the curtains behind it ablaze.
"Marianne?" he was asking her. "Marianne, are you okay?" But before she could answer, their neighbor, Mrs. Cooper, was at her side, in her robe and slippers. She held a cool washcloth in one hand and a highball glass in the other. Mrs. Cooper hesitated, then set her cocktail on the sidewalk, pressing the towel into my mother’s hands. Everything that my mother had carried out of the house was now arranged on the lawn, circled around her like children.
"Look at that," Mrs. Cooper said. She bent down, not bothering to adjust her robe. She picked up the bronze-plated baby shoes.
"Those were Eleanor's," my mother said. Me, that tiny, if you could imagine it.
"Oh?" asked Mrs. Cooper. She started to say more, but then the whine of the fire engines echoed from down the dark street, and the three of them turned to watch, waiting, just waiting, for them to come.