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Dante snapped out of his flashback in a startled daze.
He tried shutting the images out of his brain as he swam through the smoke and flame – peering forward as the shaft of white lantern sliced through the smoky darkness. As he walked the creaky floorboards, he heard the groaning and falling of smoky timbers in the unseen floors above him; he knew the ceiling could give way at any moment. His radio crackled with warnings to exit the building immediately. He reached down to his radio, switching it to off, then fought his way through the haze and flame.
He fought hard against the images; the memories as ghosts floated around him; he saw visions of his father, a fifth-generation firefighter, his tough, angry face floating disembodied on a thin veneer of white smoke. Then the image of his father: lying in a casket in a Northeast Philly funeral home, looking like some strange wax figure from a horror movie. The embalmers and makeup people had done the best they could but there was only so much that could be done with burn victims. It had been a fire in Manyunk, a section of Philly, that had taken his life.
Dante fought against the exhaustion and inertia he’d been feeling for months now; tried putting it all out of his mind; the divorce from Kathy; losing the custody battle; losing their home to the mortgage crisis. Guilt and depression had dogged him for the better part of his life, but a man had to remain strong, to fight his way through it, that’s what his parents and friends had told him.
It’ll pass, they said, in the meantime, man up.
But they could not know the debilitating effect of depression, how it freezes you and turns your life into a living nightmare of psychic pain. He’d tried sleeping it off, twelve hours a day; he’d tried drinking it away but it only made matters worse.
Snap out of it, they all said. Tough it out, Petrillo, suck it up. Yeah, he thought, if I don’t snap first.
The roar above his head was an angry crescendo; it sounded like a thousand railroad trains thundering over his head. He pushed forward into the oily black smoke and the ominous arms of orange and yellow flames that reached out all around him like angry beckoning spirits.
There was crashing overhead as sections of the burning roof fell into the floor above him. It did not slow his resolve or lessen his courage, he simply pushed the fear down below the surface He heard voices ahead of him. He stopped dead and tried to ignore the ghosts. Ahead of him in the glow of flame and smoke was Gracie-Lynn, his mother – the strong, silent pillar of strength that had endured so much before she’d died.
For years she’d dealt with his father’s unspeakable anger, the deep bouts of depression, the unexplained rage that would erupt in a split second into violence.
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