All my Fault
A short story by Saanya Verma
“Don’t talk to me like that Vanessa, I’m warning you,” I finished in a curt voice. How dare she! My own daughter berating me, her mother, for forgetting to buy her a measly little birthday card for her friend. Ridiculous.
“Ugh I hate you sometimes… I’m going to my room.”
And as promised, out she stormed.
I could feel my head pounding in rage; my hands shaking; my face heating. What a nuisance of a daughter I had brought up, if only she would just stop being so-. My thoughts were cut off suddenly by a raucous cacophony of at least 5 alarms. The deafening noise ricocheted around the room, bouncing from wall to wall to my eardrums, hammering away at them furiously. What was going on? It was getting louder too…
“Vanessa, come here.”
Louder and louder.
“Vanessa, you can hear the alarms too, something’s going on, come here.”
And now screaming from below.
I hurried into the room. Of course. Headphones. I ripped them off her and tried to shout over the piercing noise, “We need to get out of here now!”
She looked around in panic, eyes widened. Taking my hand, she sprung out of the bed quickly and, despite the situation, I couldn’t help but smile internally. She looked like my baby again. My daughter. Mine.
“What’s going on?” she roared over the clamor.
“I think there’s a fire, we need to try the stairs.”
As relatively calm as I had been, our brief conversation had made me realise, this was really happening. There was a fire and from the sound of it, some lives had already been lost. Ours could be next, my daughter’s could be next.
We rushed out of the room and across the hallway to the stairs. The smell of smoke filled the air, wafting towards us, suffocating us within its dark tendrils, warning us to run. And yet we ignored the caution. Down we went. This was the only way; we had to be able to escape through the stairs; and, surely God would help us. But within seconds, we knew, this wasn’t true. As we turned the next corner, the beast itself came into sight. Incandescent with fury, choking plumes of noxious billowing smoke out into the air, the blazing inferno crawled its way towards us. The heat was so intense, the smoke so thick that I thought my lungs themselves would start burning. Sweat poured from my head, from my back, overwhelming my body as I bent over coughing, the smoke forcing itself within my mouth. Every thought in my mind evaporated. Every want, every desire, every belief was replaced by the one urgent red button screaming for attention, RUN.
And that was exactly what I did. Grabbing Vanessa’s hand, without a thought of where we would go or what we would do, I ran as fast as my legs would carry me. Back up the stairs, good. Don’t stop. Check on Vanessa, good. Don’t pause. Run to the room, good. Don’t panic. But now what? Panic. Where should we go? Where should we run? There was nowhere left… we were trapped. We were dead. Except maybe… we weren’t.
I had one more idea left. It was only 6 storeys after all. We could make it. We’d be fine. A couple of broken bones. Nothing more.
“Vanessa, we’re going to have to jump,” I whispered. She looked scared, more than I had ever seen her. More than when she’d had to pet the snake at the zoo. More than when I broke my arm. More than when her father died. But with a decisive nod, she looked at me and I could see the determination in her eyes. I nodded back.
Open the window, good. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. 3. 2. 1. Jump down, good. Don’t look. Just wait.
The smell of disinfectant was everywhere. I couldn’t move. My legs, my arms, everything ached. What had happened?
“Vanessa!” I tried calling out but only a croak left my mouth.
A silhouette, no, maybe an angel, floated towards me.
“Ah hello dear, woken up I see” she said in a saccharine sweet voice. I narrowed my eyes. No, not an angel. And if I wasn’t dead then I certainly didn’t have time for this. Vanessa was the most important right now. I gripped her arm and tried to look her straight in the eyes.
“Where’s Vanessa?” I rasped unintelligibly but somehow, she understood and immediately a shadow crossed her face. Her mouth formed a simple straight line, her body tensed and before she even said it, I knew what had happened.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, “she didn’t make it.”
The doctor told me that I had survived, just. She had said that it’d be hard. I’d ended up with a spinal fracture, 2 lower extremity fractures and 3 broken ribs. She said I wouldn’t make it but I proved her wrong. I wish I hadn’t. Vanessa deserves this more than I do. And yet I was here and alive and not her. Why didn’t she survive? Did I not protect her well enough? Why was God punishing me like this? So many questions yet not a single one will be answered. So much guilt yet no one to apologise to. So much pain yet no one to cry to. And it’s all my fault. Vanessa’s gone and it’s all my fault. I’m the criminal, I didn’t think it through, maybe there had been another way. I deserve the punishment and yet she received it. All my fault. Her death. My baby’s death. My only loved one’s death. All my fault.
This story was written after and inspired by the horrifying incident of the Grenfell tower fire in London.
My deepest condolences go to the families of all who lost their lives in this tragic event.