When I wake I am still wrapped in my dream of George. His lips were still lightly brushing the back of my neck until I realize it is just a piece of straw stuck through my mat. I'm still thinking of George and how safe I felt in the weight of his arms when I remember he is dead. I remember the letter from his captain telling us of his gallant death. I know I will no longer sleep so I sit up. That's when I smell the smoke. When I stand, I see it's thick in the room. So, I crouch back down and crawl to the door. When I open it, I see the whole first floor is covered in flames. Part of me is still so deep in my dream I want to walk into it: into the other life where George might be waiting. Who would know? Who would care? George, Kiss me on the back of this black night.
That's when I hear the glass shattering behind me. A man grabs me like a rag doll and carries me out.
Outside, there are people standing everywhere. Fire pours out windows and doors. I stand, dumb, shivering, even next to this inferno. Who should come up the slope, but Widow Ricketts flanked by several young men. "Let's form a fire line" she says. "I've got a well and some buckets.”
And with that, I snapped back. It's as if the fire had been a dream until she arrived. They handed out buckets and asked people to line up, arms stretched out to form a brigade. And so we did. For six hours we stood, passing buckets of cold water from hand to hand until the water was poured on the blaze. At first, the water didn't do much. It fizzled and steamed on the wood. Then, after a few hours, the fire started to back down. By the time we were done the hotel was a few dark embers sticking up against the dawn sky. People started to shuffle about not knowing what to do. In that commotion, Widow Ricketts came up to me. We were both black with soot, wearing only our night clothes. She grabbed my shoulder with her warm hand and said, "Diana, come with me." I just followed her lead. We walked down to her house. She passed me a handful of wool blankets and made a bed for me in her front room. "Let's get some rest," she said, motioning to the bed as she walked back to her bedroom and closed the door. As I closed my eyes, all I could see were those flames and the dark part of my heart that wanted to walk into them. It seemed impossible to fall asleep after what we had seen. So I lay back, opened my eyes and looked around me. On every wall, between mounds of dirty and clean laundry were piles and piles of books. I could smell the must from their covers. Next to me, was a wooden chair, a little oak table with an unlit kerosene lamp and on the seat of the chair, sat a book, pages down.