Two weeks ago, I accidentally dead-bolted my best friend Ben in my apartment. I had no idea it was even possible, but he had been staying with me since returning from NYC a few weeks back, and while he was in the shower, I absentmindedly locked my door, as I’d done countless times before, left for work, and later received a call from him.
“Um, I think you’ve locked me in.”
A few frantic calls and an overpriced locksmith later and he was freed to go about his day. I felt guilty about it for far too long, and we discussed how dangerous it is that you can lock a human in a house without any chance of escape. As with most houses in Newtown, the windows are barred, there are blankets and wood everywhere, and the entire thing is a fire-trap.
A week later it was his birthday and we’d been slowly, steadily drinking all day. I left in the later afternoon, went home, and proceeded to pass out on my bed. My best friend and my girlfriend both tried and failed to get into my apartment despite much knocking and phone calling; he poked me through the window with a fence paling in order to wake me up.
These twin thoughts raced through my brain this morning as my entire apartment block was in flames. I wasn’t there at the time of the fire, but my best friend was. He awoke to a frantic knock and the yell of someone announcing the building was on fire. By the time I arrived, the entire top storey had been razed, the residents spilled onto the street and the entire block was covered with fire trucks, police who wouldn’t let me near my apartment, and ambulance workers. My real estate agent apologised to me as if she’d set the fire, and offered to get us coffees.
There was an ominous bag of asbestos sitting in the driveway; labelled loudly as if in a cartoon. I obsessed over what this meant until, “babe, the entire building is probably made of asbestos” somehow calmed me down.
My best friend was fine — or seemed fine — but my girlfriend’s eyes welled up a few hours later upon the memory of his sick, stressed face. The police questioned him in an alarmingly direct way; he realised as they were asking who he was with, what he’d done the night before, all these seemingly unrelated questions that he was perhaps the main suspect, should this be the type of fire in which a suspect was to be suspected. He doesn’t live there, the actual tenant was absent on the night in question, and he had all his worldly possessions in a travel bag (from returning from overseas), ready to quickly exit. Then hang around and be polite and forthcoming with questioning. That’s where the police case would fall apart, I imagine.
Want to hear something wild?
Ben says as everyone was frantically leaving the apartment block, a few of them saw some guy who they didn’t recognise in hi-vis gear. He left, exited the scene and was never seen again. Maybe he started the fire. Maybe he lived in the apartment block; none of the neighbours knew him, and I realised I don’t know any of my neighbours.
I still don’t know when or if I can return, if any of my thoroughly unimportant things still remain, or what this all means to me – if anything much at all.
As we were preparing to leave, a young guy came up to us and asked if we lived in the building. He pointed to the house next door — a house that I have peered into countless times, a house with a porch light that shines angrily into my window if they come home late at night — and said that we could shower, grab some water, use his house for whatever we needed.
I thought that perhaps I should get to know my neighbours, then wondered if they were my neighbours anymore.