Watch and Memorize

Brittany Cagle

Brittany Cagle

Put a police officer in front of a fire. Put in his mind the faces of the victims he cannot save. He’ll remember. For years.

The smell of smoke clings to his uniform and his hands are clenched to his sides. His victims stand tangled in the doorway, their arms reaching for him to pull. Hands flail through a small opening of wood and arch.

Stacks of people, seconds from fire.

Crush into the hallway and the smoke comes out, gushing towards air. A woman feels the weight of other bodies she does not know. A ticket stub, in the pocket of her jeans, is half-torn from moving through the same entryway before. Denim cloth frayed at the ankle.

The piercing shrill of a fire alarm shrieks. A disposable camera, its owner waist-high in fire, melts into flame, images unseen. Without any windows, the walls are dripping charcoal.

Oak trees are shadow mirages. Outside looking in.

A small girl in a bathroom stall, eyes motionless. Her change of clothes in the backseat of her car. A man stampedes in blazing inferno, crushed into a narrow hallway leading to escape.  Fire at feet, nipping.

A firefighter stands before the entrance, his fear reflected in the glass of his helmet. Through smoke and facemask he has seen death too often. He makes signs to the suffering, reading the eyes in the sunken faces.  The 132 victims who escape will not make his job any easier.

Fear calls from the mouths that remain. Time is winning.

Stage Great White 10:00 February 20.

The letters peel from a flyer stapled to wall.

Flames lick the bass drum inked in paint. Guitar strings curl in recoil. Towering blocks of amps hiss a backdrop of sparks.

A couple, a year married, inhales flames. Smoke steals their voices. Throats swell in their attempted screams. Blaze brands paper skin in the dimly lit hallway. The woman traces the cross at her neck.

Open air torments feet away.


The band manager, minutes before, set off pyrotechnics. Without warning, his sparks ignite sound insulation foam. The fire starts seconds into the headlining band’s first song. Spiral flares are sucked onto the stage and engulf the club in five and a half minutes.

Two sisters think the fire is part of the show. Their faces absorb into flame.

A man making his way towards any exit sees the injured, the burned, and those who have become victim to smoke inhalation. Air choked from their bodies.

Coughing is the ballad of the hallway. Fire spurs ignite the fear in the surrounding faces. Phantom hands press into the backs of strangers.

Hands lunge and claw.

A woman can see nothing but the sliver of oak trees. Her body presses towards that small opening. The front doorway is not enough.

Four possible exits. Other three forgotten.

Red and blue spirals, infinite sirens echo into night. That same police officer, my father, stands among the heroes who are too late.

Helpless, he watches from outside into the small doorway.


His hands, burned and contorted, will come home. Fall stiff on my back. His face will remain white, twisted.

His ear will listen for a fire alarm. His eye will search for bodies gripped to flame.


            In Honor of those who passed away from the Station Night Club Fire in Rhode Island.


  1. This is uncomfortably real. This really brings the horrifying reality of the situation to life for those who only heard about it on the news.

  2. As a literary piece, I’d say its too dramatic. But it works. It hits. There is no reason to mellow down when this is how it is. Congratulations, Brittany, on writing this heart-wrenching piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.