“Wake UP,” the voice implored ….. and partly whined and partly pleaded and partly commanded.
I blinked stupidly at the morning light and the blurry smudge of a person swaying in front of me. She wasn’t swaying. My post-drinking morning vision was.
“What?” I asked, annoyed. I glared at my clock then squinted. The 8 digits combined seemed to indicate it was 6 AM.
The smell of smoke permeated the air and the blurry smudge of a person who had been swaying in front of me disappeared out of my bedroom door. I rushed out of my room, and followed the thick smoke to the kitchen. She had set the oven to “clean mode” and the oven was hot enough to melt the candle that was on top of the stove. It had gradually melted and commenced dripping into the burners which trickled into the oven. If I recall. Little flames occasionally shot up from the burner.
“I called 911,” she asserted, waving a towel at the smoke toward the open window.
The firemen arrived and extinguished the fire. There was smoke damage, to be sure – a black streak akin to the sooty designs you’d see in a fireplace. Gray dust settled on everything. The firemen brought in a humongous fan – had the blades not been caged in metal, I could see this badass puppy playing a role in a horror movie. It sucked the smoke out the window in five minutes. I couldn’t believe it. It also slammed shut doors and tousled papers. Some of the empty Rolling Rocks rolled around the kitchen like fallen leaves on a windy autumn day.
Yeah, that was humiliating. The heaps of beer cans. It didn’t go unnoticed. While they said nothing about them, you could see an eye surveying the evidence of heavy alcohol consumption. You could see them scrutinizing the filled ashtrays.
One of the firemen was inspecting the smoke detectors. I cringed.
I remembered my roommate and I smacking the hell out of it with a broom handle because the batteries were old and the chirping noise was unbearable. We giggled about it, smacking it with the broom handle like it was a pinata about to drop us a load of candy. She bent over, clutching her chest. “Stop making me laaaaaaaaaugh!” I laughed harder and smacked it some more. The cover flew across the room. In tandem we smacked at the battery which ultimately fell out. Neither of us bought new batteries.
One of us was rightfully broke, the other thought alcohol a financial priority.
Now it was here, coverless with wires sticking out in disarray.
Her baby toddled out. Actually, he was about three. His big brown eyes were drowsy, the corners of his lips sleepily turned downward. The fireman looked at him and smiled softly. Turning his attention to the smacked, useless plastic overhead, he shook his head. Another fireman approached him, and the first one gestured to the nonsense on the ceiling – the neglected smoke detector. They looked at the little boy and then looked at us. They made no effort to mask their contempt for us. They were disgusted with us and I wished a big black hole would swallow me whole.
“You HAVE to have this working,” one of them blurted. He folded his arms and glared at it. Both walked away muttering and shaking their heads.
After I thought they had left, I heard heavy-booted footsteps lumbering up the front stairs. One fireman emerged with batteries that he had, perhaps, in the truck? He smiled thinly and re-positioned the stepping stool to rectify the smoke detector that had once been our hockey puck. Without a word, he got down and looked at us. He raised his eyebrows and wordlessly wandered back down the hall.
That situation stayed with me. It made more sense to me later. But at that time, I thought the situation could have been avoided with the FIRE itself. Then there wouldn’t be outsiders inside judging me.
Looking back …. I know if my roommate hadn’t woke me up I would have slept through it. What if she wasn’t there? I could argue she wouldn’t have been there to turn on the “Clean” function of the stove either, but what if it was a DIFFERENT fire. What if I was alone? I’d be charcoal right now. Honest to God.