VI. Every Last House
As I stood on a neighbor’s second floor porch which looked onto the front steps of our house, across the dark, now-empty residential street, we each recounted our version of the events. I had woken up to the sounds of what seemed like someone trying to break down my door. I had slept in, so it was almost noon. I saw it was a bright, clear day, and my apartment was already full of light. I am being robbed, I thought. The door rattled; I grabbed my phone. Just as I made up my mind to go out the window, I heard, “Fire Department!” “Somerville Police!”
My neighbor said he was standing in this very spot when he’d saw the smoke on the porch. As he said this he leaned to see around the tree, like he did that morning. He pointed the smoke out to someone walking by and asked if anybody was barbequeing though he’d never seen anybody barbeque up there before. This second person called the fire department, he said.
About five firetrucks and thirty firefighters showed up. Neighbors and passersby gathered round.
It was just after the end of the semester, and I was at my most nocturnal. I’d never worked so little yet felt like I worked so much. I spent most weekdays at home, talking myself out of going to work or class, and most weeknights playing DOTA with my west-coast friends until the sun came up.
Knocked off my routine, that morning I stepped outside into an unseemly lit world. The sidewalk sparkled, faces glowed, the siding shone. “Oh good,” said a neighbor, “I’ve been trying to call you.” as I tiptoed around the yards and yards of hosing. Overhead, ten or so firefighters had climbed a ladder onto our second floor porch and were breaking apart a support beam and dousing it with water. Smoke mixed with water ran down the side of the house.
This part of Somerville, adjacent to the highway, is packed tightly with 2-, 3-story multifamily houses with flat roofs. They were all built around the same time, and besides the choice of front porch or back porch, are roughly identical. It’s a high traffic area with gas stations, warehouses, busy overpasses, auto-repair shops. It’s a neighborhood that looks like it could be rough, but isn’t. Mostly families live here, and service industry workers, students, and other people passing through.
At our house it was just a small electrical fire, sparked by some exposed wires on the porch. But by the next morning our porches were condemned: a freshly printed notice deemed it unsafe and a danger to its occupants. I reported this fact to my neighbor, gravely, as we drank our beers. His own porch pitched forward precariously and threatened to dump us both out onto the street below.