Liese stood by the window and looked down. There was quite a crowd gathered below, eager to witness the horrible spectacle which had already begun to unfold.
Word had reached her that the fire escape had been rendered useless, and the realization that there was no way out now had caused many of the other women to freeze up and cease to function entirely.
Listening to the panicked screams of those around her and the sound of the fire rising from the floor below, she was momentarily lost in a trance. Two years ago she had still been living in Germany, entertaining dreams of how she would cross the ocean and live in New York with her brother. She was going to learn English, she was going to work her way up from her factory job to one in a store or cafe, she was going to marry a handsome American, things were going to be good.
Things had not worked out that well. She had arrived in New York and went to live with her brother. She had learned some English, but she had not moved up in the world. She still worked at the shirtwaist factory, she was still miserable. Gerhardt had died in early January and she was now completely alone.
She was going to die alone now. The smoke was filling her lungs and the heat of the fire pushed her closer to the open window. This was not what she had wanted. To die by fire, incinerated and forgotten. No one would identify her, her parents would never know what became of her for even if they did hear news of the fire, which was doubtful, they didn't know she worked there.
She wondered how much she would be aware of - would she feel the flames burning away her flesh or would she be killed by the smoke before the fire even reached her?
Her desire to live had never been so strong as it was now. She thought of all the things she would do if she were to somehow get out of this. First and foremost she would find herself a different job, a better job. She knew enough English now to get by. Then she would start working towards getting what she really wanted.
But what did she really want?
She wanted to go home. She wanted to have never left. She had gained nothing in the last two years. She didn't even know why she was here anymore. Trying to find a husband. Ha. That was bullshit, the sort of nonsense she had told her mother to try and console her.
She remembered the day she had left home. Her mother hid behind her hands and cried while her father explained why it was necessary for Liese to join her brother overseas. She was so young. She didn't know what she was in for. She didn't know anything. She still didn't. She wished she had listened to her mother for once rather than trying to do what was 'right' for the family.
"I'm sorry" she said, wishing that her mother could somehow hear her even though she couldn't even hear herself over the surrounding cacophany.
She stepped up to the window, and she jumped.