Purgatorium (Inspired by “Children on Fire Escape” by Weegee)

Ana Pizarro | 29 March 2018



This is where the children come after they die.


They wait inside a broken down building, spilling over to a flimsy fire escape. Years

of a semi-permanent smog have reduced the railings to rusty twigs, and adorned the exposed

brick walls with soot and mold. While the place itself reeks of abandonment, dust and wet

concrete, the people add a sweaty, coppery stench to the setting. No voices are heard, only

irregular breathing, sometimes a muffled wail or the cracking of glass under someone’s

hopeless wandering feet. It seems that an infinitude of bodies is able to fit into this very

limited space. Arms and legs twisted in unnatural angles, an assortment of rejected ragdolls.

Their cloudy gaze fixed on an unattainable horizon.


A very curious thing happens to forgotten infants. They’re all glistening eyes, snotty

noses, bruised knees while alive. The world is a riddle, and the solution is in each flying bird,

the smell of every flower, the top of all trees. After they’re gone they shrivel, for their cosmos

has been reduced to a dreadful monochromatic casket. They stand transfixed, every single

human characteristic slowly stripping away from them, until they’re just empty vessels in this

desolate inferno. That’s how one determines how long they’ve been here. The ancient kids

are almost see-through. The recent ones still have salty cheeks.


A malnourished girl looks up at me with piercing febrile eyes. She’s slumping against

the decrepit wall, and somehow manages to lift her bony hand in my direction before being

consumed by a coughing spasm, curling up as if trying to contain her convulsions with a hug.

Like most people here, she didn’t have the chance to grow up. However, she has lost her

young soul. I see the drained eyes of an old woman in her scrawny prepubescent body. This

is Peter Pan’s demented dream. The Lost Boys didn’t fly, they fell. Now they stare. They

dared to hope, once, before realizing that having faith in something that isn’t coming is like

trying to cut something holding a knife by the blade. Lacerating and fruitless.


There’s a woman, too. She comes every once in a while, dropping some people off.

Her sharp jaw, spectral skin, long ebony hair contrast with her affectionate gaze. They call

her the Angel of Death. While certainly unnerving, she isn’t so wicked. She escorts you to

your destiny. Can you imagine having to go alone? It’s comforting to have someone with

you. She’ll remind you of your mother.


After all this speculation, it’s time for me to move on. This god-forsaken hole is only

my first stop. Eight more to go into the depths of Hell. Each more atrocious than the previous

one. As I walk away, I hear the echo of a thousand anguished souls.

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