Saturday, May 05, 2007

Go Back To the Top of the Slide

Today, the family celebrates the birthday of my niece, the Princess Fifi, the world's youngest catalog shopper. She was born two years ago and immediately began assembling a wardrobe. We're having a barbecue at Daria's house, where we can expect gifts, appetizers and Chlorox Bleach Pens.

A few days ago, Daria expressed in comments interest in a loaf of bread I'd baked. I felt so exposed! Imagine how the bread felt. I shiver, just thinking about it! Regardless, then, on Thursday night, I set up no-knead bread dough and last night just after 6:30, I set the oven for 450 degrees and soaked the clay pot in water. Italian TV waxed operatic in the living room. The kittens tussled athletically on the carpet. My dinner was just losing its singular appeal when tranquility was shattered by the ear-splitting peal of my building's fire alarm. Kittens dove under the couch for cover.

These are garden apartments, which means two apartments on the ground floor and two above, inside the firewalls. I ran for my door and my neighbor across the hall met me in the foyer. There was nothing to do but stand there because we coudn't see anything but each other. We smelled smoke but couldn't see it. As we stood there, staring at the bleating smoke detectors, her upstairs neighbors flung open the front door and bolted up the stairs past us, smiling sheepishly. "We smell it!" they said, and that's all they said.

I said nothing. They'd left an appliance unattended and were too embarrassed to say so, which meant that they'd deal with the noise. My neighbor and I went back to what we were doing. The hallway was so thick with smoke I could smell it in my apartment and with bread baking. The racket was paralyzing. Doors slammed upstairs, then outside. The young couple upstairs has relatives here, and they were obviously seeking help with the situation.

This is not the kind of place where I'd know much about my neighbors beyond their names, if that, so I don't know these two. They have two cats, they're well-educated and keep a nice home. They're the nice people I fretted about in December. You'll recall I considered breaking and entering to find out if they were upside down in a ditch. I'd guess they're in their mid-twenties, probably just a little older than Miss Sasha, and I guessed further this had never happened to them before because a few minutes turned into ten, then twenty, and still the distressing cacophony continued. I hated to intervene, but I couldn't take it anymore.

I took my four foot step ladder into the hallway, set it up, climbed it and disconnected the ground floor smoke detector. Reluctantly, I took the ladder upstairs and disconnected the upstairs smoke detector. The silence that followed was better than a cold drink on a hot, arid day. Then I knocked on their door.

She is tall and willowy, almost delicate. I've seen her books so I don't underestimate her intelligence. As I talk with her, I realize she depends absolutely on her more gregarious husband, and that I am old enough to be her mother.

Tata: Patricia, you had a little fire? Everything's all right now?
Patricia: The toaster caught fire. It's out. Dennis went to find someone to turn off the fire alarms.
Tata: I've disconnected them. Are you okay?
Patricia: I am okay. Dennis didn't know how to turn off the alarms.
Tata: Okay, then. It's simple. When the smoke clears, connect this to that, then screw this back into place.

Dennis bounded up the stairs a moment after Patricia closed the door. I explained the reconnection to him, searching his face for anything like wounded pride. A young man can be so easily hurt when women either trust him to know what to do or don't rely on him, as I didn't, and it's always hard to know what will offend. I also explained that for the first weeks I lived here, the downstairs fire alarm went off every night at 3:30, so I can disconnect these things in my sleep. Almost.

Daria's loaf of bread turned out beautifully despite the chaos.

One night, the first week we were in Virginia, Auntie InExcelsisDeo and I came to the same conclusion. It was in the air. I knew it, and I am always right about these things. Someone in that room was pregnant. Everyone said no. Everyone swore up and down that no, we were wrong. Summer's new husband called from California and said only, "When is the baby due?" which shocked us all into silence.

So today we learn Miss Sasha is pregnant after all. I am going to have a grandbaby. Let the shopping begin.


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