This One Time, 88

This one time the expo I go to every year had hit one of those lulls where it seems like everything’s frozen and time has stopped. Participation this year was a little sparse. The tables and booths were far enough apart that people wandering the neon-blue carpet could have private conversations with the people manning the booths without being too obvious about it to their neighbors, only now it was so quiet that conversations would have to be held pretty low indeed not to be noticeable. Right at this very moment, nobody was walking. The few people that weren’t behind the tables were parked, standing and leaning in singles and pairs. The people behind tables were sitting quietly or standing as well, looking through their material as if they hadn’t already done the same thing a hundred times.

No one was talking. Everyone was waiting for something.

I pulled a bottle of water out of my bag and snaked my phone out of my purse. I didn’t actually do anything with my phone, though. I just left it on my side of the leaflets describing training programs for new managers and various certifications we offered, classes we taught on location, classes we offered at regional hubs, classes we offered online…. But still nothing happened. It was like the zoo on a hot day. All of the animals had found places to park in the shade. It was siesta time — the time of mad dogs and Englishmen.

I wrote the material on gender sensitivity training, yet I knew the only reason I was the one manning our booth was because I was easy on the eyes. I dressed to play it down, to look comfortable and approachable, to not try to hide my age. It was the best I could do to salve my conscience.

The exhibition space was about the size and shape of a football field. The long walls were glass, maybe thirty or forty feet high, and coated with a heavy light filter to keep air-conditioning costs down. The bottom two or three feet were uncoated for some reason, and the sun outside made the concrete walkways outside as bright as the lights in the ceiling. After cracking open the seal on my water, I found myself fishing my sunglasses out of my bag. I didn’t really notice I had put them on until I was looking at the display on my phone and wondering why it was so hard to read at this angle.

There was, in fact, a small dog outside the window nearest me, staring in through the glass. As bright as it was outside, I wondered how it could possibly see anything other than its own reflection. But then, who knows what a dog looks at.

What got my attention was that it seemed to be smoking. Now that I’ve said that, I’m sure I need to clarify. It didn’t look like it was smoking a cigarette. It looked like there were wafts of smoke or steam coming up from its fur. It didn’t make sense. Maybe it had been swimming in a fountain out there or something, but I didn’t know what it would have to be like out there to see it steaming. Maybe if it were so cold you could see your breath, and the dog had been running.

That’s when I noticed how hot it was getting in the exhibition hall. I took a long pull at the bottle of water. When I looked up, through my sunglasses, I could see the air shimmering around the lights. Back outside, the dog had actually burst into flames and was running in circles. Then all the lights snapped off and the sprinkler system kicked on. The fire alarm started up a horrendous buzzing wail.

I grabbed my phone off the table and wrapped it up in one of the bags the pamphlets came in. I dropped it in my purse and set my purse and bag on the seat of a chair and then shoved the chair forward until the seat was underneath our tabletop.

I wanted to go help the dog, but I was sure it was too late. I didn’t know what was going on. After a moment I just climbed under the table myself and hoped that if the place was really on fire that the ceiling would hold until help got here.

It was a couple of hours until the sprinklers ran out of water, but it wasn’t until sunset that anyone came in to tell us what was going on and what had happened.

Something had gone wrong with the sun and half the world was on fire.


March 29, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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