The classroom bell rings, undercutting the wail of the fire alarms. Cacophony. As if for a fire drill, we are lined up, smocked dresses, corduroys, pigtails, cowlicks, marching down the beige linoleum hallway. The blue railing which divides the hallway from the gymnasium is to my right. I can see across, over the painted lines of the basketball court and the opposing railing, to the second grade classrooms. It will be two long years before I get to march down that hall.
The geography of this well-known building shifts as the hallway, instead of passing through the vestibule–front door on the left, offices on the right–and drawing us towards the cafeteria, redolent with the smell of the milk coolers and industrial cleaning products, ends abruptly at two exterior doors.
They are blue, steel with push-bar releases, hot to the touch.
There is chaos and panic. The line dissolves and we are pushing, shoving, clawing. The doors give under the pressure, but are snapped back, closing us in while the sirens scream. It is as if there is an elastic force keeping us inside these doors.
From a new vantage point, outside, removed from the tremendous noise and fear, I see my primary school transformed into a kind of geodesic dome. Gone the familiar two story, brick, everytown educational building.
In its place is a living inferno, a half-sphere engulfed in viscous flame. The fire crawls up and over the dome, rolls and pours like mercury, quicksilver lava which need not obey the laws of gravity.
And while I can see from this altered point of view, I know that I am still inside, while the fire shoves back, stretching its hot muscles against us.