The bedroom door swings open, light from the hallway streaming in. The cats, who have been lumped on top of me, scatter, eyes wide and tails at half mast.
“Sorry to wake you,” says hubs from the doorway. He was not tired when I succumbed to sleep an hour before, and is still fully dressed and alert. “They said we might need to evacuate, so I thought I should warn you. Just in case you wanted to be ready.”
I am still fumbling my way out of sleep, and this intrusion seems less like reality than like an extension of the dreams that have already begun to evaporate. Nodding, I push back the covers, the motion peeling away some of my exhaustion. My brain begins to buzz and wake. A chilly breeze crawls along my bare arms, further rousing me.
“Why?” I mumble. My voice is dry from disuse, and I pause to clear it. “What’s going on?”
“Fire. Come on. I’ll show you.”
Barefoot, I pad after him through the house and out the front door. We stand side-by-side on the smooth flagstone path and watch. The sky to the west is a billowing pink plume, the cliffs around us awash with shifting shades of rust and salmon. The fire is giant, and spreading. Above is an infinite black sky strewn with a million stars. All around, neighbors have wandered onto their porches or into the street to watch the drama unfold. It is surreal to be pulled from the peace that comes with sleep, only to witness destruction in the dark with near-strangers.
The fire is close, a few miles at most, but all we can smell are the dew-dampened grass and the rotting leaves of autumn. This is good news; the wind is not blowing the inferno in our direction. We retreat inside to plan, in case it shifts. Plans are good. They make us feel in control.
The cats are our first priority. This does not require agreement; it simply is. After that, the computer with my writing. Our photos, wallets, journals. A few other things we’ve accumulated over the years. That’s it. All else can burn if necessary — not easily, but without such heart-wrenching loss. I am stunned at how few essentials we possess, and absurdly proud.
Later, once all is gathered, I try to sleep. It is barely possible. My limbs hum with adrenaline, my mind races with thoughts. When sleep comes, I flit along just under its surface, waking often. The cats, oblivious to the drama, doze on through the night. Hubs leaves to investigate and does not return for hours.
This morning the flames are contained, and those who live near are wrecked from stress and adrenaline and lack of sleep. Things could change, but for now all seems safe.
There is a curious kind of joy, a buoyancy, that comes with escaping disaster. It weaves through the building where I work, joining and then overtaking the smell of stale smoke curling in through the vents and window cracks. Although I think longingly of the sleep that escaped me last night, some of the mania flows through my veins, too. And somehow the mixture feels just right.