You see, the fire alarm had gone off in my apartment building. That thing shrieked and wailed in a relentless high-pitched keen that went through my head like a bullet and ricocheted around my skull. Hands, which happily turned out to be my own, clamped themselves over my ears. My eyes slammed shut and every muscle tensed into a knot.
My body was in fight or flight mode, but I could do neither; I stood stock-still. The piercing screech of the alarm had stopped me dead in my tracks. Terrific, I thought, I’m going to be a deaf woman. Better that than a cinder, I argued. Shut up and let me think, I shouted.
That’s hard to do in such a clamorous, stressful situation. Think, I mean. My feet wanted to run, but the rest of me didn’t. So I dithered. Should I flee into the frosty air or sit tight? Flee? Sit? Flee? Sit? Finally, I pried my hands off my ears and checked the weather, which was sunny and 11º F. Hey, one more degree and we’d have a full dozen. Sweet.
I sat. It’s just too freaking cold to go outside. Besides, when a fire alarm goes off, I automatically think fire drill. Especially when it’s 11 puny degrees. That’s bone-chilling, teeth-chattering weather. I’m not going out there. Not voluntarily. Not on a dare. Not at gunpoint. I don’t do cold. Period.
I did make concessions, allowing for the possibility of a real honest-to-goodness fire with flames and sparks and stuff. Pants, for one. I put a pair on over my long johns. And shoes, for another. Although my socks are plenty thick enough by themselves. Seriously. I think they have an R-value, like home insulation.
So I was prepared. Or as prepared as anyone can be for brutal, bitter cold.
In the lobby, building residents were abuzz with nervous energy. People scurried and fretted, they wrung their hands and darted their eyes, but no one bolted for the door. The elevator’s dead, one guy said. The second floor’s filled with smoke, said another. Still, no one legged it.
It didn’t take long for the fire department to arrive. They tromped around in their boots and helmets awhile, issued the all clear, and life went on. Start to finish the whole business lasted less than an hour, but my ears will take weeks to recover.
Someone, they wouldn’t say who, burned lunch. What, I’m sorry, lunch? Were they cooking a mattress? Ay yi yi.
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