Here are two important things about me: I love animals more than a normal person (three places I’ve worked in my life: pet store, vet clinic, humane society) and fire scares me more than anything. Well, except clowns. Clowns with razor-sharp teeth.
When you were a kid, did they ever make you watch that “be careful because you are about to lose everything and everyone you love in a fire” video (well, filmstrip, I’m old) at school? It scared the SHIT out of me. I BEGGED my parents for one of those ladders that folded up under your window. I slept with all of my favorite toys within grabbing distance in case we had to evacuate. It taught you that fire was insidious. In the filmstrip, a smoker put out his cigarette on the arm of a chair (why did he do this? Fire probably told him to. Evil, evil fire!), and three days LATER that chair burst into flame. No one in my house smoked, but what if someone who visited us had an ash in their pantleg they were unaware of? Stowaway fire! This was a very major concern of my childhood. Fire would kill and eat everyone you loved, leaving you a sad, dirty-faced orphan who smelled like woodstoves, like the poor kid that sat next to me once and then he disappeared and they said he moved, but I was never quite sure about that. That’s what I took away from that filmstrip.
A few years ago, we had a severe thunderstorm on my way home from work. I got home and settled in with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and some HBO. You know, as you do. It was summer. The smell of barbecue grills was wafting gently through my open windows. (“It’s curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains.” No? Fine. Go watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, you heathens.) It was a lovely post-storm afternoon. Then someone started banging on my door. I went downstairs to the door, grumbling about my ice cream melting and wondering exactly how many people were barbecuing, because the smell of smoke was really getting strong.
My neighbor, who never knocked on my door. Odd. He said “Fire,” and pointed at my bedroom window. He had a very thick accent, and I wasn’t sure what he was saying. He repeated himself. “Fire!” and pointed again. I looked – and smoke was pouring out of the roof right over my apartment window. The neighbors were all leaving the building. My building was on fire. (I found out later that it had been hit by lightning right before I got home.)
And here’s the best thing. My neighbors? Were setting up lawn chairs to have a front-row seat to the fire. One of them brought out a cooler and started passing around popsicles. Apparently, this was their fourth of July; my apartment was the fireworks. Lawn chairs. Freaking LAWN CHAIRS. And they were jostling for the best sightlines like it was the Kentucky goddamn Derby.
He gestured for me to leave, and I almost did, but then – well, not that I wish intense situations on any of you, but have you ever been in a situation where your brain just kind of takes over and breaks down a task and you’re in the zone? Oh, what’s that you say? Sports? I know nothing of this “sports” of which you speak. I’m talking about disaster, people. I was about to leave and I realized two things, one of which had three parts: a. my purse, with my apartment keys, was upstairs, and the door would lock automatically behind me if I closed it and walked away right now; and b. my two cats and my roommate’s one cat were upstairs. And the smoke was really starting to billow. Oh, and there were no barbecues. In case you didn’t figure that out yet. (I was foreshadowing. Fancy, right? I know! I went to college for that!)
The cats were upstairs and there was a good chance the apartment was going to go up in a cinder and our three cats were upstairs. And my roommate didn’t get home from work for another half an hour. And fire was insidious. I had seen the filmstrip!
I ran back upstairs, pulling the door shut after me. The neighbor was yelling something after me. In the zone. I was in the ZONE. I saw the cats, two napping peacefully on the couch, one on my roommate’s bed. I grabbed the cat carriers from the closet. I whirled around.
No cats. Not one. Cat desert. Tumbleweeds blowing by. (Also, smoke. All the smoke. Coming in the open window.) See, the cats even see a carrier, and their cat brains light up with “Carrier. Vet. Shots. SHOTS! OWIES! RECTAL EXAM AND OWIES!” And they are in the wind. We used to put the carriers out a week before the vet visits so they’d think they were new kicky decorating choices and forget about their impending doom, just so we could get near them on vet day.
Someone was banging on my door. Firetrucks, alarms clanging, were pulling up outside. And where were the ever-loving cats?
I found one under the bed. With the strength of a mother whose child was trapped under an Explorer, I grabbed her and threw her in a carrier. (The claw marks I had in me, later, were kind of epic. Didn’t feel them at the time.)
The second cat – well, he’s dumb. There’s no other way to explain him. He’s mentally challenged. He’s a polydactyl with more toes than brains; he’s got a stub tail that the vet thinks is a congenital deformity (and when he gets excited, it splits at the tip like little devil horns), and he’s slightly walleyed. When he hides, he does the ostrich thing. He only hides his head. “I cannot see her,” he “reasons” (he cannot reason, he is dumb, hence the sarcastic quotes), “so therefore, she cannot see me!” And then when I grab him, he always looks at me like I am a goddess and a finder of lost things. I “found” him with his head half under the couch. Bam. Carrier.
“Ma’am? This is the fire department? And you’re going to need to come out, as your apartment is on fire?” Bang, bang, bang. One more cat! One more cat! Where is the last cat? The apartment! It is on fire! I DO NOT HAVE ONE OF THOSE LITTLE HANDY UNDER-WINDOW LADDERS!
(Have you forgotten about my ice cream? It melted. I had to throw it away. I know. Ben & Jerry’s isn’t cheap. And “act of God” doesn’t cover ice cream in your renter’s policy. Keep that in mind when purchasing insurance. It’s apparently “not an item of value.” Tell that to my TASTE BUDS, insurance adjustor.)
The last cat was under the loveseat. Whenever I tried to reach her, she scooted away. She was not having this. There was a carrier. There was probably a vet visit coming up. And I was acting weird.
I threw the loveseat (no, seriously, that bad boy went over like the Titanic, we found it in the middle of the living room when we were allowed back in and my roommate was all, “Whaaa?” and I was like, “Those firemen! Man! Take care of personal heirlooms, guys, am I right? RUDE” but it was me and my super-adrenalized and possibly ice-cream fueled strength) and grabbed her, more scratches, and ran downstairs, throwing my purse over one shoulder, cat carriers in each hand, two in one carrier, one in the other. Flung open the door. Fireman standing there, his hand up ready to bang again.
“Had to get the cats,” I said. He was not amused by me. At all.
“Ma’am, you never, never run back into a burning building, didn’t anyone ever teach you that?” he said (YES I WATCHED THE FILMSTRIP DAMN), and then, “Last apartment’s clear,” and I walked the cats to my car, crashing, exhausted, my neighbors watching me with their little avid eyes from their lawnchairs (LAWNCHAIRS! at a FIRE!) and put the cats in the car and waited for my roommate to come home. When she did – running across the lawn, petrified because the fire department had put someone at the end of our street telling everyone that if they lived in building 11, they couldn’t go home, it was on fire – we met like lovers at the airport.
“Did you –the..” she said, tears in her eyes.
“They’re fine. They’re in my car,” I said, and we hugged, because I was a huge hero. A parade? Yes. It wasn’t too much to expect. Maybe a small, tasteful piece in the paper. A monument in our local park. I had braved the flames, people, and I had won. Without a little ladder. The insidious flames, they had not gotten me OR my furry kiddos.
Hubbub! Hubbub! What was going on?
The lawnchairs started getting up and going in. The excitement was past. What? Why, you ask? Because – get this, are you ready? – the apartment wasn’t really on fire. No. Seriously. Well, there was a fire. A tiny one. More smoke than anything. It would probably have gone out on its own. We were allowed back in. The fireman had gone through our apartment to put out the gigantic conflagration (tiny smoldering baby fireling) and left it a mess. (And of course there was the mess I’d left, “rescuing” the cats from a danger they weren’t even in.)
Please, let me reiterate.
I saved the cats from a NONEXISTANT FIRE.
Whatever, shut up, I’m still super-brave. I’m sure the firemen weren’t laughing at me when they drove off; they saw something humorous in my general direction.
Well-played, fire. I was not prepared for just how insidious you are. I’ll be ready next time, though. I’m getting TWO of those little ladders. One for me, one for the cats. BAM.
(Note - in looking for a title for this post I found that there is an album by Cat Stevens entitled "Teaser and the Firecat". That - well, that is kind of the most awesome and terrible and also awesome.)