I stood in front of the charred skeleton of a building.
Every window was busted and black, with shards of triangle-shaped glass shining menacingly in the streetlights, like the teeth of a monster. The police had taped off the sidewalk, and were still directing traffic at 10pm. But the smell of fire didn’t linger in the air – it only smelt like a cold winter’s night.
Astoria had changed while I’d been gone.
This morning I rushed frantically to work and, because of construction, walked to a different subway station. With my route change I missed the burning restaurant and apartment building, leaving me quite dumbfounded upon my return to Astoria.
I sat there staring at the mess of blacked boards and brick. This was the second fire I’d witnessed in a week, leading my overactive imagination to wonder… were they connected? What had occurred earlier this morning? How long did the fire burn and was anyone injured?
Explanation came in the form of an over-weight middle-aged woman with an accent.
She walked over to the scene with a man trailing closely behind her. “Jesus Chri…Yeah, this had to be what they were talking about this morning.” The man nodded, “Yep. 1000 percent.”
I glanced at the woman, then back at the building. She leaned slightly towards me. I knew I wouldn’t even have to ask about the fire because the answers were about to fall from her lips.
“Happened this morning,” she said with a distinctive boroughs accent. I’m not sure why people always begin talking to me, but I don’t mind. Usually I’m curious about what they have to say, and today was the epitome of that situation.
“Really?” I replied. “How did I miss this whole…” and then suddenly I trailed off, remembering my rush to the other subway station.
“Started burning ‘round 7:30 this morning” Explanation stated, lighting a cigarette. “Yep, right around 7:30.” “Oh my gosh,” I said looking at her and then back at the old corner café, now unrecognizable.
“They say it started in the kitchen. And you know what they say about fires that start in a kitchen…” Explanation takes a heavy drag.
Actually, I don’t know what they say about fires that start in a kitchen, or any other fire for that matter.
She reads my blank face.
‘You know that’s when they’re trying to collect insurance,” she half-whispers. Then Explanation exhaled a halo of cigarette smoke, dropping her voice even lower. “I’m not saying that’s what they’re doing, you know? I hope it’s not what they’re doing… I really hope it’s not.”
“Yeah… me too. Thanks,” I say. Explanation continues her walk down the street.
I stand a little longer, taking in the winter breeze. When it gets too cold, I move from my rooted position and walk up the block, unsure of my emotions. Sad for the families displaced, curious about the situation, and regretful for future summer nights that will never be spent in that café. For me – for anyone. I say a silent prayer for the families and head home, making a mental note to look into renter’s insurance.
Maybe that semi-numb, semi-sick feeling is actually one I recognize: It’s the sting of sudden and unwarranted change that bites ruthlessly like the glass teeth of a charred, broken building.
(Editor’s Note: I looked up a few more facts about the fire and there is no mention or facts that prove insurance fraud. The opinions expressed by Explanation are not “The Why’s” own opinions. For the news version of the story, click the link below.)
Local news source available here.