A Storyby Wilhemina Austin
It was the stove I ran to check when the smoke alarm went off from its spot on the ceiling in the hall. That spot was close to our room, close to Jack’s room, Juliet’s room, Juliet in our bed, all of us compactly awake and aware, fear just beginning. Once in the past that alarm had gone off differently, first beeps lengthy in their spacing. Jesus, couldn’t we shut it up before it wakes the kids? But in those days, Eric, handy with everything, had never met a smoke alarm, it wasn’t required in the New York City apartment living we’d left behind, not installed in the house he grew up in, or mine. I’d been in complete accord when he’d grabbed a stool to stand on, then reached up with a screwdriver to gouge the thing and its sound away.
How did we know this time was the real thing? The proof would be in the kitchen, down the hall, six or so long steps away, past the bathroom and over the dark bile-green wall-to-wall carpeting that ran with me that night, something to speed the way to where fire might begin, where it did begin daily, in the stove. Warm Morning, the stove said somewhere on it, the former owner’s thrifty choice, and convenient in a power outage: turn a knob, hear the hiss of gas, stick a lit match to it for the phoom of workable flame. Its out-of-date copper color had worn in places to brown, a tired-out ember effect, but its top was cold to the touch. I wrenched the oven open, then the broiler. They yawned out chill.