General Fiction posted December 8, 2017

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One fire, Two lives changed forever

Fire Escape

by Sandollar

"Did you hear that?" Arly said. Her friend, partner, and fellow hair stylist, Natalie Payne, was busy getting Mrs. Ketz's hair rinse her custom shade which was somewhere between pale sky blue and gray. It was very tricky to get the balance just right.

"Did I hear what? Wait a minute, do you smell smoke?"

"I thought I heard glass breaking." Arly said. She went to the front of the salon and looked out the window.

"Oh my God, there's a fire in the building across the street! It's coming out of the top floor. I'm going to see."
Natalie watched anxiously from the doorway as Arly ran across the street.

"Call the fire Department. Hurry up, Nat. This looks serious."
She ran around the corner and up the street where the call box was and pulled the lever down. She put the phone to her ear.

"What is the address of the fire?" She gave her the address and hurriedly ran back to the fire.
Flames were leaping out of the windows and Arly could hear screaming and breaking glass. Where was the damn fire department? In response to her thoughts, she heard faint sirens getting louder but they were still several blocks away. Suddenly a woman's piercing scream caught her attention.

"Help! Help me, please. Take the baby, please. I will throw her to you. Please!"

"The firemen are coming! They'll get you out. No-no-no-no-no, don't throw the baby!"

"There is no time. Please take care of my daughter." She said frantically.
The woman threw the infant in her general direction. A hail Mary pass was thrown and she was in position to receive. Arly caught the bundle.The woman screamed again, then disappeared inside the window.

The baby girl surprisingly was not crying; she looked up at Arly, gurgled, and gave up a gassy smile. The fire trucks finally arrived but not before the fire had ravaged and raged throughout the building. By the time it was under control they had lost two tenants and three firefighters had been hurt.

Natalie returned to the salon and watched with the other onlookers as most of the tenants with the two bodies exited the building. Arly searched for sight of the woman who had tossed her the baby but she didn't see her. The woman in the window had been blond, all the females that came out were either brunettes, redheads, or gray. Finally, she came to the realization that she'd have to go and look at the bodies to determine if the woman was among the victims. She approached two soot covered firemen next to the stretchers that held the two bodies.

"Excuse me, I'm, uh, looking for my sister. I can't find her and I thought-" Arly voice was hoarse from the smoke.

"You thought she'd be here. Fortunately for you, there are no female casualties. Arly swallowed hard.

"Are you sure? I mean, is everybody out?"

The firefighter looked at her impatiently and replied:
"If she isn't over there with the people who got out and she isn't under either one of those tarps, and she isn't, then she ain't here." He turned back to whatever he was doing.

Where the hell is this lady? Arly took the infant inside the salon where Natalie was engaged in an argument with Mrs. Ketz. The delicate balance of blue and gray had been shattered. Mrs. Ketz's hair was now a color-not-found-in-nature blue. She stalked out of the salon threatening to sue, as she put it, all our asses. Natalie couldn't hide the smile as the woman left.

Who have you got there, Arly?" Natalie inquired. She took a peek into the blanket. "Whose baby is this? Where's the mother?"

"That is the question of the hour. Do you know she threw this baby to me? Suppose I hadn't caught her? I damn near didn't!"
Arly placed the infant in a large wicker basket one of the stylists brought out. She opened the blanket and found a letter.

"Listen to this, Nat:"
"To Whoever has my baby, I leave her in your care. If I am alive I will come for her soon as I am able. If I am dead I beg you not to turn her over to the authorities. Her father is dead. Those places run by the state are too hard for a little girl to live in and thrive. Please keep her and raise her yourself. Her name is Valeria Eve but I call her Evie. I have included her birth certificate.
Take the money. It's all I have. Thank you so very much and God bless you whatever you decide. Kalyna Touros."

"What are you going to do?" Natalie asked. Worry lines creased her face.

"You can't possibly be considering this, can you? You're already saddled down with one kid, right?"

"I'd hardly say saddled, Arly bristled. and the note specifically says do not take her to the authorities. Besides I'm betting she'll come back for Evie soon. And if she's in the system, it's going to be super hard to get her out of it. As you say, I am saddled with one already. I know the ropes."

"It was a poor choice of words, Arly. I apologize." She nervously closed her hands and opened them again and again. "But you really can't do this. What about her other relatives?"

"Well, I'm here and they are not and until they turn up it's going to be me, I guess." She rubbed her knee, It had swollen and a bruise was already darkening.

"Ow, when I caught her I fell on one knee and it's beginning to hurt." Arly continued to rub.
Natalie recognized the planted feet and the set of Arly's jawline and realized no one was going to be able to talk her out of her present course of action.

"The note mentioned money, did you find any?" Natalie inquired.

"I couldn't find any- wait! Here it is." She dug deeper into the blanket and found some loose hundred dollar bills.

"Here take her. There must be at least five thousand dollars here." The total came to five thousand six hundred dollars.

"Well, you're gonna need it if you're keeping her. Maybe you better take one of those hundreds and get this baby some diapers and wipes. She smells rotten."

"You'd smell too if you'd been launched out of a burning building, fifty flipping feet into the air."

"Now that's the truth for damn sure!" Linnie Bridgemont, the new manicurist, laughed.

The stylists started fussing over Evie. Sarah Vide washed her up in the shampoo basin and Molly brushed and finger curled her damp, reddish brown hair. It was soft and curled easily. Her bottle green eyes sparkled and she didn't cry or fuss. With her thumb in her mouth she was soon fast asleep.

In the southern part of Madison, called the Towbridge section, the neighborhood had been in transition. Up until recently, this part of town had been abandoned and riddled with drug dealers, prostitution, and extreme poverty. In a deal with the Madison Chamber of Commerce and Police Commissioner Murphy, they gradually cleaned up the area and "convinced" the gang leader of the Skulls and Bones to relocate to the waterfront.

Huge demolition crews with gigantic machinery bulldozed the buildings out of existence. Two years later there were eight, seven story apartment buildings,twelve shops along one side of the street of which Natalie's and Arly's salon was one, and was surrounded by a man-made park. They named their shop Swizzle.

Three years later, Evie had grown into a happy, chubby, toddler. Her reddish hair had golden highlights and her green eyes always sparkled. Arly had long ago decided to keep her, always promising herself she would tell Evie later on when she was older. She was still in the old neighborhood but had moved herself and Evie into the complex down the block from Swizzle.

Evie practically grew up in the beauty salon. The stylists became aunties and uncles. She had a doll she named Trudy, whose hair could grow longer at the touch of a tab next to her belly button. She styled that doll bald. But by the end of it she could make decent finger waves and curls.

One day in October a woman came into the salon. She seemed very taken with Evie and played with her before her appointment and after. She asked a lot of questions about Evie's mother.
Arly was not there; she was at the supermarket running a few errands for the salon. It was late afternoon when she returned to Swizzle. Sarah Vide, now the floor manager of the shop turned salon, rushed over to Arly.

"There was some strange woman here today, Arly. She paid an awful lot of attention to Evie, too."
Arly froze. "What kind of attention, Sarah?"

"Oh, singing to her in a strange language, playing games with her. She almost forgot about her hair."
Arly felt her blood stir again, as Evie came flying out of the back room and ran straight for her.

Mama, Mama! Come see what color Uncle Bennie made. Come on, come on!"

"You go on back, Vee. I'll be there in a minute." She kissed her on the cheek and hugged her. When Evie left, Arly called Sarah, and Natalie, into the back conference room. She had taken out the bottle of Wild Turkey Reserve and poured herself a full five fingers with two whiskey stones. She sat and fell into the cushions of her tan, butter soft, leather sofa.

"Nat, I think she's here and she's come for Evie. Sarah what did she look like?"
Sarah took a glass and poured her drink. She used her fingers to stir it.

"She wasn't anything special. Dishwater blond. Her best feature were her eyes."

"Why?" Arly nervously inquired. She thought of Evie's vibrant green ones.

"They were just very blue. Anyway she wanted to know a lot about you. Did you work here or own it, where was Evie's father? Questions like that. After the father remark, I cut her off and told her she should come back when you were here to answer her questions."

"Well, thank you, Sarah. Do you mind going up front and keeping an eye on things? I appreciate it."

"Not at all." The manager finished her drink and returned to the salon floor. When they were certain they were beyond prying eyes and ears Natalie said:
"You know it was her, don't you? What are you going to do?"

Arly stood up and drained her glass and set it down on a nearby coffee table. She ran a hand across her face.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do about her, but I know she can't have Evie. She's been gone too long and she lost whatever chance she might have had. Where has she been all this time anyway?"
Arly was not going to give up Evie without the fight of her life.


This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry

There were some formatting problems in this and the contest entry. Thank you to all who read and review. A Thank you goes out to Alex Erhardt for the art work.
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