Jenna Rigsbee - Triangle Fires - 1911
Triangle Fires, 1911
A flame! A flame!—I saw the blue catch like a mouse
in the mouth of a cat, an exhalation of cigarette smoke. The sweet
hot stench of my sister’s breath down the arm of her
dress, hiding—a break for fifty cents. We have the same fingers,
raw and bloody: a new trend for Ladies’ World.
A small smoke, a stroke of match against a roll
as the scissors sit, innocent as the crocodile
used for a new pair of shoes, waiting to snap
off the cotton scraps, bite the excess. She taps away the ash.
A light! A light!—I thought it was the sun set up
in the sky, being lowered by a woman ready
to go home. It could have been the light of my sister’s
glasses, winking like a lover across the table. Where is her
bunch of roses? I once sewed a hundred floral faces; light blinds
her, and the cigarette? Smoldering away, setting aflame
a bin of leftovers. We will not eat these flaming
desserts as starving heroines. Should we tell? Should we
stamp it out? Let the crocodile swallow us—one bite—down the chute?
We run—commotion—it smokes us out.
A song! A song! I sing in the screams of a hundred women.
Work the locks—strong girls, pull!—the doors
tighten their hinges. Men are on the other side, laughing, or
is it the fire snapping at us, the dead crocodile punishing us? We call—
out like a female choir. My sister, an ashy smudge behind bodies, smokes.
The building breathes—the sigh a cigarette puff. I am soaring
down—escaped from the eighth story window. Flaming dress running
behind me—a live firework.
Dress us in the rich ladies finery.
I will wear their skirts at my funeral.
Jenna Rigsbee is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in English concentrating in Creative Writing. Her fiction has been featured in Not Your Mother's Breast Milk.