A gleaming silver picture frame stuck out from among the ashes. With renewed determination, Angela squatted down and began unearthing the priceless treasure from the still-smoldering cinders. She recognized it as her parents’ wedding frame. Angela closed her eyes and tried to imagine herself standing within her cozy living room, near the hearth. In her mind’s eye she walked over to the mantel and looked longingly at the family photographs. Her baby brother on his first birthday, face and cheeks covered in chocolate cake, her mother and father, smiling radiantly on their wedding day, and her grandmother, with twinkling forget-me-not eyes. The image blurred, and Angela was brought back to the present, sitting in the remains of her house.
Trying to fill a void that could not be filled, Angela gently wrapped the picture frame in her sweater and deposited it in a paper bag. For the past two days she had slipped away from the chaos of her family’s rental apartment and had come down to the spot of her old house in search of something, anything, that was from her old life. The search had been a disappointment. Until today, the only thing salvaged from the flames had been two toilets, and a sink.
Angela recalled with surprising vividness the night of the fire at her house. She had been awakened from a dream by the shrill cry of the smoke detector. While she was still trying to contemplate the noise and confusion, her dad burst wildly into her room.
“Follow me, Angela, quickly!”
“Dad, what’s happening!” she had cried out in fear.
“Our house is on fire. Follow me, and stay low to the ground,” answered her father, in an attempt to be reassuring. Angela followed doggedly behind him. The whole thing seemed surreal to her, like a bad dream. She still did not believe that her house was on fire, not when she heard the great rumble of flames, or smelt the smoke clogging her lungs, or even when she saw the yellow tongues of fire licking the chimney. Angela remembered her brothers and sisters and mother all sitting in a pile weeping.
“Angie, our house is burning, our house is burning down,” Molly, Angela’s six-year-old sister, had said between sobs. Angela did not answer her. She was in a state of shock, as if her body was going through the motions while her mind was in another dimension. The rest of the night had been a whirl of neighbors and friends coming to console Angela’s family. They congregated on the front lawn and watched in silence as firefighters battled with the scarlet dragon.
It had been a little over a month since the night of the fire. In that month Angela had experienced many strong emotions: shock, anger, sorrow, and most of all emptiness. She had come back to the scene of the fire in the hope of finding something of value buried in the ashes: diaries, photos, maybe even her violin. Angela realized now that, as hard as she tried, she could not undo the damage that had been done. She could not bring back her house, or her old carefree life. For the first time since the fire, Angela began to cry.
She cried with a passion and force that shook her small figure. She unwrapped the picture frame, with the charred photo, and her tears fell upon them. The sun sank behind menacing gray clouds, and like tears, giant raindrops fell from the sky.
After a while, Angela’s crying subdued to momentary sniffles. She felt a surprising sense of relief, like a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders. It stopped raining, and glorious sunshine warmed her body. Angela felt homesick, but not for her old house; for her family and friends. She had been so cold to them since the fire, pulling away when they tried to comfort her. Now Angela wanted their company, and wanted to repair the damage she had done to their relationship.
“I knew I’d find you here,” said a tall, sinewy woman, with light brown skin and warm brown eyes.
“Mother!” Angela exclaimed, jumping up and rushing into her arms.
There was a long silence while Angela’s mother surveyed the ashes and the burnt wedding picture. Finally she said, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Mother,” Angela said in remorse.
“Come, let’s go home. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
With one last look back at the place of her childhood, Angela turned to leave. But not before she had securely tucked the silver picture frame in her pants pocket.