It gets light so late now that when fire trucks roared through Capitol Hill waking up my street earlier this week, nobody knew if it was midnight or 7 a.m. An apartment building on Bellevue caught fire. The structure was mostly abandoned, but tragically a man still living inside one of the units became trapped and died.

Every fall my elementary school held an assembly about fire safety. The principal, Mr. Stebbe, urged each student to make a family escape plan in case of house fires. One year, my mom volunteered to make our house the safe harbor on the block. We put a little orange sign with a home inside a heart in the front window. It meant that if your house caught fire and you couldn’t find your parents, you could come to ours.

I wondered when it would happen–it could have been any night–that kids like kittens would scratch on our screen door and run inside smelling like burnt toast. We’d give them matzoh ball soup late at night. We’d turn the porch light on so that parents could find their kids sprawled across our living room with new socks, wrapped up in blankets my grandmother crocheted. Everything they owned could have just burnt up, sure. But we were a safe harbor, a salve.

I keep imagining the sleeping man who died on my street Monday waking up and escaping instead. Maybe he’d find an orange safe harbor sign at the coffee place Bauhaus or Edie’s, the shoe store across the street. Neighbors would take him in and he’d have new shiny boots and hot chocolate and could watch everything burn with everybody else, the building becoming an effigy instead of his body.

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