Feb 26 2011

Fire Drill

I’m still getting used to the new fry pans. Since we swore off Teflon, I’ve yet to get the right balance of butter and heat and pancake batter to avoid filling the kitchen with smoke. Yesterday’s breakfast preparation elicited the high-pitched scream of our smoke detector. All heads bolted up, eyes rounded. De-facto knew it was the smoke from the stove but surveyed the apartment anyway and then reached up with his long arms to reset the alarm.

As the girls turned back to their syrupy plates, he said, “What if it had been a real fire? What would you have done?”

“Get low and go!” Short-pants and Buddy-roo shouted in unison. This from a Sesame Street book featuring Elmo and several fire-fighters which was conveniently in favor a few years ago, helping us to teach the girls about fire safety.

“Right. You get low,” De-facto said, “and where do you go?”

The girls repeated the instructions that we’ve pounded into them. How they need to call out loud for mama and papa and bang on the bedroom door (if it’s at night) to wake us up. How on the way out the door, they should bang on our neighbors’ doors and shout out to them on their way down the stairs and out to the meeting place down the street.

“Good,” De-facto said, “but don’t spend too much time banging on doors for mama or the neighbors, just enough to alert them. You want to get out of the building as fast as you can.”

He’s right, I know, though it feels a bit heartless, the way he says it, that they would leave me to burn in my sleep.

“Yes, but if the fire is in the hall and we can’t get out the door, we should climb out on the roof!” Buddy-roo says this every time we run through this drill, and every time I’m sure my head jerks toward her with big wide eyes.

I shudder to think of her and Short-pants pushing themselves out on to our roof, which is sloped at a serious diagonal angle. It’s nearly impossible to traverse it. I know, having done so when I was without keys and crawled out of our neighbor’s window and, in my bare feet to keep a grip, inched along the roof to the open window of our locked apartment. I’d give them two steps on that roof before they’d slide down and over the gutter, falling four stories to the cobblestone street.

Short-pants recognized my alarm.

“But that’s a last resort!” she said, to assure me.

“And only if the fireman are there with a ladder, and with a trampoline,” added Buddy-roo.

To say that I’m terrified is too strong, but I’m seriously concerned that in the event of a fire, the two of them would panic and climb out on the roof right away, or that when they’re a wee bit older and lot more daring they’ll try it just for kicks. I always make the big pronouncement about how it really is a last, last, last resort, and only if there’s no other way out, and ideally with the fire department there to help them. I picture one of those blue-uniformed French Pompier – and they are uniformly buff – carrying the girls down the extended ladder. I’d absolutely crawl out on the roof in my nightgown if one of them were waiting to rescue me. If there was time, I’d even change into that sexy little silk number first.

“You only go out on the roof is if there’s really no other choice,” I said.

The girls returned to their breakfast, the kitchen silent except for the sound of their cutlery on the plates and the thought-absorbed chewing of pancakes.

Until Buddy-roo burst into tears: “I don’t want to be without any parents.”

I moved to where she was seated, already big fat teardrops were sliding down her reddened cheeks. I told her I don’t want her to be without parents either, and that the chance of a fire in our apartment is very slim and it would be very unlikely that her Papa and I woudn’t smell the smoke and we’d all go out the door and down to the street together. She slid off her chair and threw her arms around my neck in a fierce hug. I could feel her wet tears on my shoulder.

What I wanted to say to her was, “Don’t worry you’re not going to be left without any parents.” But I can’t really promise that. We all know someone who’s fighting a disease they didn’t expect to get in the middle of their life. The busses in Paris run fast down their designated lanes, I could be hit by one at any time. A tragic or poignant disappearance is, in fact, always at hand. I don’t need to dwell on it, but I can’t hide it from her, either.

So I didn’t say anything. I just rocked her back and forth without words, feeling her against me, her little heart beating, alive, just like mine. Then she loosened her embrace and let go and turned back to her empty plate, and asked for another pancake.