Fear and Fire
Copyright 2021 by Etti Hazan
I had neither seen nor smelled the fire. I
knew it had
been there, because I had been told about it. The woman had survived,
but her cat had not.
Iíd been told about it when I came home for
school break. I had been attending school in other cities and
countries from the age of seven.
In the first hours of my return, our
me in its remote familiarity. I opened and closed drawers, prowled
the rooms for new books and magazines.
It happened across the street, but the next
over. So our building was not affected in any way.
There was a certain newness to being home,
that lasted half a day or slightly more. The baby had to get to know
I sat on my bed and felt the bounce in the
Inspected my junk drawer to make sure
My parents and younger siblings filled me
in on all I
had missed. There had been a fire across the street, they told me. I
have a new Lego set, my brother enthused. My motherís preschool
had hired a new teacher. Two of my siblings would be flying in the
next day. There were newly printed photos to go through.
So much information; one bit stuck. There
had been a
fire. I didnít notice it creeping up, its tentacles engulfing
my brain, silently warning me of a new and present danger: FIRE.
A new fear that was never voiced or
acknowledged but made itself known to me alone.
It manifested itself, over the following
period, as a
silent terror I would live with for months, a year.
My mother would often leave a pot or pan on
unattended as she cared for us, hung the laundry out on the porch to
dry, answered the phone to counsel someone, welcomed visitors, put
her feet up, all the mundane activities related to raising a large
family while also holding a communal role.
But see, the pots and pans were no longer
because I attended to them. I quietly walked past the kitchen every
few minutes, making sure the flames were where they should be,
underneath the pots and nowhere else.
When food sizzled in a pan, I checked more
When liquid in a pot boiled and threatened to spill over, I sought
reinforcements before a disaster could occur.
It was a critical job, one had to be on
guard at all
On the Sabbath, when the flames
were covered for
the duration of the holy day, I had to peer under the sheet of metal
to check on them. I had to save us from the fire, it was only a
matter of time before it happened.
After the break, I flew back to
My cousins were independent and often
cooked their own
food. My cousin R. taught me how to fry an egg, but I no longer lit
the flame under the fire pan. R. had to do it for me as I stood in
the doorway and flinched.
My auntís dairy stove was especially
to use with my newly developed fear, because it consisted of an
independent double gas burner that was placed on the countertop, a
typical Israeli space saving technique.
R. lit the flame, I fried my egg and stood
aunt cooked and I stood watch.
Months later I was home again.
As I walked past the kitchen in my eternal
some oil on the side of the pan caught on fire, causing the flame to
shoot up a few inches.
- I yelled.
I was vindicated, my hard work had paid
off, I wasnít
crazy, there was a fire.
My mom came running from her room where she
was on a
long distance call. She turned the knob and moved the pan. The fire
was gone and my mom had interrupted an expensive phone call, for
Time passed, and fear turned into
I was home for summer vacation, and the
to burn took on a literal meaning.
I pulled out the stubs from the shabbat
a match and watched as the wax melted. I learned how to make the
match last longer, how to roll all the wax into a giant ball.
burned paper and plant shavings from the porch.
Then I started burning lego, and my mom put
down as the awful smell of burning plastic wafted down our long
I was banned from the matches and my fear
fascination faded, making room for new adventures.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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