“Valerie…Valerie…,” a voice cried out. Screams and fire engines and more than a hundred firemen. He saw folks stretch out their arms as firemen passed along the animals in burnt- and howling bundles. Where he running? What he doing there? Nehemiah kept watch as the others gathered at the window. Feayo was never the type to be at the head of things. As long as he’d known him, though they’d spent a lot of time apart, Feayo with Grandma Zella and Nehemiah at his mama’s place, he’d been slow and plodding, avoiding anything that had to do with motion, something scared within him protecting himself from exposure. Some folks, Nehemiah knew, dreaded getting out of bed while others rose to the occasion even before the sun came up. And yet, here was Feayo scrambling out of that stairwell while the entire universe slept, frantic and purposeful, defying Nehemiah’s expectations.

Grandma and Miz Annie stood before the display window. They ran out into the street, after ordering Nehemiah to stay inside. Nehemiah assumed Feayo snuck out in the middle of the night, rising from the air mattress while Nehemiah slept beside him. Sometime in the middle of the night Feayo must have got up and left the back room where they’d been crashing since the landlord discovered them in the front, and gone to the front and opened the door and crossed the street and broke the lock to the orange door that led up the stairs to the apartments and attic. Nehemiah never knew Feayo to go over there before, mostly avoiding that row of shops that housed the animal clinic and stained glass studio and tattoo parlor and record shop.

Nehemiah could hear the night-gowned ladies screaming for the firemen to save Magdalene and Jennifer, the firemen unaware if they were animal or human. He could see men rushing toward the flames, their friends and neighbors trying to hold them back.

“They’ll get free if you can just go save them,” a woman screamed in the street. “Break open a wall—let them out!  Please . . .”

Others darting up and down the street, searching, holding hissing, squirming cats, carrying them to parked cars.

“Who has seen Valerie, my white pit bull?”

Nehemiah didn’t say a word. Feayo’s absence didn’t go unnoticed. Grandma saying something to Miz Annie before rushing out as fast as her bum legs could carry her to find Feayo as much as anything. Please let there be a reason. Knowing better than to say a word.