FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Current Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contributors FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//About FRESH YARN FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Past Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Submit FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Links FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Email List FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contact


Fire Escape
By Gemma Roskam

"What were you doing right before you saw the fire?" he asked, and I told him how I'd been out on the fire escape smoking.

"Is it possible that the smoke you saw was from your own cigarette?"

I shook my head hard. "No." And then I wondered if it had been, and I said no again, more to reassure myself than anyone else.

"Are you on medication?" he asked.

"No," I said, but I figured now I'd need some kind of pill to help me get over this debacle.

After a few more questions the captain concluded that I was not malicious, just not particularly bright. He called his men inside, and we filed through the endless hallway. I hung my head, my cheeks burning with shame. Right before the door closed behind us the old lady asked, "Why would she do this to us?" Tattoo face put his arm around her. "People are strange, Elsa," he said. Tony walked me to the corner, slapped my back and smiled warmly. "Take care of yourself," he said in an extremely genuine way that made it clear that our affair would not be taking place on account of my mental state.

When I neared my apartment I saw the door was open, and I heard voices on the other side. I cautiously stepped inside and a large police officer with a furrowed brow met me in our narrow hallway. "Ma'am, do you live here?" I told him I did.

I wondered if, before he arrested me for calling in a false alarm, he'd let me change out of my Juicy Couture sweatsuit into something a little more rugged and Riker's Island-ready.

"I hate to tell you this, but you've been robbed." I felt relief and then horror. Perhaps in my haste I had forgotten to lock the door.

"Oh no!" I said, and the cop nodded. "My partner and I responded to a 911 call from this number, but when we got here we had to call for back-up."

Who knew when you place a 911 call of any kind, all sorts of emergency personnel show up at that address?

"I have to prepare you," the cop said. "The thieves really trashed your place."

Now I saw six cops moving through my apartment, taking notes and snapping pictures, looking for clues that might help solve the case of who could have done this terrible thing to my apartment.

My cheeks burned still hotter. "Um," I interrupted, "I did this." And I gestured lamely at the mess. I didn't go into how I didn't think of it as a mess, exactly, that really it was an artistic expression, the work of a suffocated artist finally freed. I did tell them that I called 911 about what turned out to be a nonexistent fire. I walked to the window and pointed, and then I gasped.

"There it is!" I cried, delighted to see after all I hadn't hallucinated. There was the smoke. "Yes!" I said. "See there it is!"

The cop walked to my side, put his hand on my shoulder and looked a little sad. "Lady," he said gently, "that's just steam from a clothes dryer."

That night I cleaned until 4 a.m., searching for the source of my woe. I tried to find a place to lay blame for my seeming madness. I chose the government. There should be a step between doing nothing and a full-blown emergency. There should be another number to call for those mini-problems. Instead of a hotline there could be a lukewarm line. 910. Maybe a number answered by a giggly operator who'd say, "910, maybe it's somethin' but maybe not." That would be someone I could tell about a possible emergency. Someone who'd dispatch a thin man with a painter's cap in a souped-up golf cart who would come out and take a quick look.

I decided I wouldn't tell Ben about the events that had transpired in his absence, but the instant I heard his key in the lock I raced to the door and began my impassioned confession. He carefully hung up his jacket, brushed a piece of lint off his jeans, and then we sat on our barstools and he squealed with delight as I told him every last detail, down to Tony's desperate hazel eyes.

As Ben laughed, my shame evaporated, and when I was finished, he smiled and said, "Only you, Gemma," and I heard it the way he meant it, as a compliment. After all, he understood that my living in a state of emergency -- by oversleeping, losing my house keys every day, getting lost, being chronically late, writing important notes on tiny shreds of napkins, canceling all the credit cards in a wallet that turns out not to stolen after all, in short -- infusing drama into every moment of life -- enriched not only my life, but his.

PAGE 1 2 3

-friendly version for easy reading
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission

home///current essays///contributors///about fresh yarn///archives///
submit///links///email list///site map///contact
© 2004-2005