The Fire Trail, a Novel: Anna’s Memories of Nine-Eleven

Chapter 15, Anna, age 57, Zachary’s mother and docent/librarian of Comerford House Museum, 2014:

The Fire Trail“As Zachary ran the Fire Trail on Nine-Eleven, Anna busied herself in the Comerford kitchen, making tea. A grandfather clock tolled four. The notes, Anna thought, sounded mournful, appropriately so, on this day of such remembrance, such national tragedy. The day had cast a spell of sadness over her. She had skipped CircleFit and instead worked steadily in the library upstairs. No one showed for the two o’clock tour, now that school was in session, and she turned on the small TV in the pantry, muting the sound, simply wanting reassurance that her country had not been attacked again.

Having set the table with a bowl of sliced apples and a plate of oatmeal cookies (steel cut oats, whole wheat), she added a vase of red roses from the garden. She waited for the water to boil, glancing from time to time at the TV screen, reading the running news panel along the bottom: Trade center rises from ashes, opens 13 years after terror attacks; Berkeley Free Speech Movement rally planned; Militants behead British hostage in video; Suicide risk on the rise for elderly; Fire Trail suspect still at large

Comerford House was quiet, as though a pall had fallen over the grounds. Anna vividly recalled September 11, 2001. She had been thirteen years younger then, only forty-four, and Luke had not yet left them for that young Rosalind, and they were a family. California time was three hours earlier than New York time, so Anna first learned about the attack shortly before six in the morning and Zachary was still sleeping. She had risen early to see Luke off for his shift at Foodmart and was making breakfast, the portable TV blinking and flashing its morning news.

nine-elevenThe first TV bulletin had been nearly unbelievable. The voices of the reporters moved from pragmatic concern to astonishment to horror at what they were seeing, and then saying, as they described the planes diving into the towers. Today, thirteen years later, Anna could see it so clearly: the black smoke of the first plane and the fiery explosion of the second. It was, she recalled, when the second plane hit, that she, along with a stunned nation watching, concluded this was not an accident. The United States was under attack. But who would do such a thing? Later, she learned, four passenger airliners had been hijacked by nineteen terrorists who had turned the planes into suicide bombs.

That morning Anna had stared at the screen, dumbfounded, as American Flight 11 and United Flight 175 dove into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. She witnessed men and women jumping from upper windows to their deaths. She saw the towers implode and fall to the earth, and she could even now feel the terror of it, as though she were there. She could taste the dust billowing through the cavernous streets, the heart of America’s financial markets, as terrified workers ran from flying debris. The third plane, American Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon and the Department of Defense in Washington D.C. The last plane, United Flight 93, diverted by passengers rushing the hijackers, exploded in a Pennsylvania field. Over three thousand died, including hundreds of firefighters and police, the deadliest attack on American soil in the history of the United States.

HALF MAST FLAG CLOUDYThe kettle whistled. Anna turned off the burner, the flame died, and she poured boiling water over tea leaves in the pewter teapot. Leaving the tea to steep, she moved from the kitchen into the foyer and crossed to the music room. From there she could see the San Francisco skyline, its misty shape still visible, still intact. Comerford’s porch flag flew at half-mast, and she watched the heavy canvas ripple in the growing damp, its stars and stripes waving as though holding the past and the future in its weave.

Anna heard the French doors open and close in the kitchen. Father Nate had arrived for tea…”

Christine Sunderland, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016, 115-116)

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