fire escape

by | Mar 20, 2019 | Poetry

in case of fire do not take elevators. stairs are located behind you, to your right. it is nineteen floors to the bottom. during emergency drills you file down in a long line that reaches from operations on the ground level up to the executives on twenty-seven. you keep your eyes on the feet of the woman in front of you. she has changed into sneakers for the occasion. you could make it to the bottom in a matter of minutes, even in your high heels, but you have been advised to proceed in an orderly fashion. the line moves at more of a leisurely stroll so you have time to take in the scenery: the organized tessellations of cement blocks—the color, you imagine, of decaying flesh—and informational signs, every seventy-five steps, that slowly slowly count backwards from nineteen to one.

in quiet moments I remember the barn down the street, attacked by arsonists, watching in my nightgown as a girl, the school bus driving past the embers the next morning. I remember a car flipped off an overpass, smoke tower coiling high, ambulances and police roadblocks not yet arrived so traffic moved smoothly past the mangling, my college luggage safe in the trunk of the family station wagon. I remember watching Los Angeles aflame, first the blackness in the sky, then from the helicopter POV on TV, then at last as I drove home by the reddening mountains. friends of mine spoke of the rain of ash but I did not see it myself. some trees survived. they rise from the hills, candles on a birthday cake waiting to be lit.

she keeps his letters in the drawer of her desk. there are not too many. they get crumpled round the edges, pushed beneath spare batteries and low-inked pens. she does not read them often but sometimes when she dreams of a different place, a place from the past, the girl she used to be, she holds the letters in her hands. not like jewels or divorce papers or other precious things. she just holds them. there was a time when life burned, it burned, it burned, she thinks, and she has lost it.

fire escape by Katherine Vondy

Photo used under CC.

About The Author


Katherine Vondy is a writer and director whose credits span film, theater, and literature. The recipient of writing residencies from Wildacres, Starry Night, the Vermont Studio Center, and the HBMG Foundation, her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in numerous publications including the Beloit Fiction Journal, Briar Cliff Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Bartleby Snopes, Quiddity, and Cobalt Review. Visit for more information about all her creative adventures.