Back around 1999, when I was cleaning carpet, I was told to go, solo, to Sylacauga, a town about an hour from our home base. I wasn't thrilled, but I never was. So okay, off I went, the sun going down as I drove to this area I'd never seen before. The customer was a mild woman with an interesting house. Most of it was one large open room with furniture groupings and screens creating a sense of discrete locations. A bedroom, kitchen and bathroom were behind doors. I was impressed by the way it combined openness with intimacy in the little clusters of furnishing. It seemed she lived alone but was accustomed to company. The whole area was carpeted, and with the customer helping I moved every single bit of furniture in order to clean every bit of floor. It went pretty smoothly. Then it was time to put the furniture back, with plastic under to prevent any residue from the chair legs and such staining the wet carpet.
The customer was very particular about putting it all back in order. She couldn't remember how it all went, though. She wanted to put every bit of furniture back just so, but how was just so? Every chair, every sofa, every pole lamp, every screen, we had to agonize about just exactly where to place it. With few walls, corners or other fixed landmarks, she was unsure exactly how to line everything back up on the original floor plan. I didn't have the gumption to suggest we simply put the furniture any which way, and she could fix it at her leisure after the carpet was dry and I was home showering off the work day. And so putting the furniture back took far, far longer than the cleaning.
Once it was done she offered to lead me to the main highway, she in her car, me in my truck. Since it was dark and we didn't have GPSs (only a big mapbook) I eagerly accepted. I had found my way there but didn't relish trying to get back alone in the dark. That far from base my radio wouldn't reach the base, and I didn't have anything remotely resembling a cel phone, so I felt totally alone out there aside from my infuriating but genial customer.
Following the red of her taillights, I saw another reddish light flickering through the trees. Soon, despite the darkness all around, it seemed as if some small localized sun was still above some small localized horizon.
A house was on fire. Not just a bit of smoke or flame out a window, but the whole building, a residential bonfire. I'd never been so close to such a conflagration before. not far past it was the main highway. The customer turned back and drove homeward. I had a peculiar desire to discuss the fire with her, but of course our involvement with one another was over.