What do you do when your house is on fire?

I have read that people instinctively go for:  (1) any other person or pet in the house; (2) treasured photos or albums. And then they run like hell.

But if my dream last night is any indication, I won’t take anything at all. In fact, I won’t even leave. Nope. I will stay there, explore the fire, see what it is going to do, laconically remove a few items while Buck, Maggie and a host of eccentric houseguests wander up and down several flights of stairs. One of the guests, wearing old-fashioned pajamas, has a big mug of cafe au lait every time I see her. She grates on my nerves a bit, to tell you the truth.

The fire starts in the attic and shoots down through the elevator shaft, travels under the house and then pops up in organized, energetic flames  through three of the five eyes on the gas cooktop. Spectacular, really. No firetrucks. When twilight gives way to full dark, it seems the fire has simply gone out. And then, all of a sudden there are small, cartoonish flames hovering everywhere. No one acts concerned, but I get agitated and run up and down the stairs trying to whip up some sense of urgency, exhorting the wandering guests to pick up a chair or a mixing bowl and take it outside. They seem more interested in looking into all the cabinets and bookshelves and sitting down with a cup of tea. Finally, after hours and hours of the house being on fire, I find a cell phone on the floor and call 911. The woman who answers is not friendly, concerned or even kind. “You people take the cake!” she said. “You think you can take all the time in the world when your house is on fire and wait until you’re good and ready to call me? I am not sending any of our long trucks to that address! You can forget that. Just enjoy your little fire and don’t call me again!”

I never get a word in, edgewise or any other way. I hold the phone out from my ear, stare at it, then toss it over the stair rail.  Interesting thing about this fire. It is bright, but it is never hot. Nothing gets burned. Nothing is melted. There is no crying, weeping, wailing or gnashing of teeth. It is more entertaining than the fair in October.

Dreams are great, aren’t they?  I wish I could have this dream again tonight. The unhappiest ending that could occur is waking up with a crick in the neck. In the real world, I can imagine nothing worse in the pantheon of horrors that sometimes befalls people and other creatures than a full-out house fire. Buck had an aunt whose beloved husband was burnt up, along with their candy apple red Cadillac, in the ball of flame that had been their new home in Little Sabine on Pensacola Beach.  I have a friend whose goodwill ambassador of a seeing eye dog was asphixiated in a house fire. Fire is fast, deadly and unpredictable.

Except in a dream. In a dream, fire can frighten, but it can also  illuminate, cleanse, even amuse. There are many theories about why we dream what we dream, from Carl Gustav Jung to junk-internet to the “what did you eat before you went to sleep” school.  (I ate an excellent chunk of sesame-seed encrusted seared rare tuna and a side of steamed veggies at the Crab Trap on Pensacola’s downtown waterfront yesterday for lunch, and a simple baked potato and sliced tomato for supper.)

The Crab Trap’s comfortable dining room was filled with fellow refugees from the cool air, sea fog and rain. We watched a flotilla of seabirds swim synchronized infinity symbols on the gray bay. In addition to my tuna, there were plates of crab cakes with sides of smoky collard greens and decadent cheese grits on the table. There was a pleasing low hum of conversation in the room, not raucous like it sometimes gets when big trays of tropical drinks make the rounds at summertime tables, and our server, Olivia, was efficient, good-natured and bright as a penny.

I don’t think what I ate yesterday produced last night’s fantastical dream, nor do I think junk-internet holds the answer. Carl Jung? Now, we’re talkin’.

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