Kage Baker would be shaking her head at me today. “How do you do these things?” she would ask. “You just stumble from disaster to disaster!”
Which is pretty much gall from the person who was usually at my side when I did it … while it’s quite true I seem to have a knack for weird accidents, Kage was usually right beside me when I fell off a roof, or was run over by a startled deer, or developed a weird disease.
I don’t know why I attract such domestic drama. I keep expecting to reach those golden days when nothing peculiar happens anymore – but I am aging like Calamity Jane, and it appears there are no peaceful back waters for me. If I find one, it will turn out to be a breeding ground for mutant skunks with hands. Or something.
Our house has a fireplace. I like a small fire on cold evenings. We usually use artificial logs to at least start the fire, as they are a nice example of recycling – made of sawdust and paraffin instead of some noble oak that was cut down by a mall developer. Night before last, though, the damned thing wouldn’t stay lit. This is about impossible for something made of sawdust and paraffin; or so we thought. But when it insisted on going out repeatedly, we gave up; it was laying there dark and unburning when I went to bed.
Unknown to us, though, the cunning log continued to smoulder through the night. The smell of smoke was pronounced – at which point, we figured it out and closed the glass fireguard doors to keep it contained – there was still no visible smoke or flame, but sparks are always possible. We thought we were being clever, see.
But the log was cleverer than us. When Kimberly left to pick up her husband, Ray, for a doctor’s appointment, thick white smoke was pouring out of the chimney. Her last frenzied instruction to me, flung over her shoulder, was: “Call the fire department, we might have a chimney fire!”
Panic stations! I called 911, poor nephew Michael attempted to leash the Corgi (who had no idea why we were running around, but was prepared to panic out of sheer camaraderie), and the cats just sat and blinked. Not even Harry, a semi-professional hysteric, seemed upset by anything but us. However, when the firemen arrived – 6 trucks! Dozens of large men with axes and ladders! – all bets were off and all the animals freaked. The cats vanished, Harry started bugling like a dragon, and the dog went into a frenzy.
You have to picture me, in my tatty convalescent sweat clothes, surrounded by huge men with axes and Trojan helmets, rushing around the house. Mike was dealing with the Corgi, who had settled on trying to herd the firemen as a logical response, and answer the phone – which was poor terrified Kimberly, still trying to collect Ray and simultaneously find out if her house and family were on fire. The phone kept going out, convincing her Mike was hanging up on her for unknown reasons; and Mike, in a 20-year old attack of bravado, started yelling at the firemen. Not surprisingly, they yelled back.
Acoustic scientists say that a female voice cuts through ambient noise better than a male one. I have found this theory proven many times upon occasions of riot and confusion, and so it proved yestreday. Or maybe men are just naturally intimidated by loud old women … Despite being shoulder-high to everyone else involved, I was able to make myself heard over the masculine shouting, send Mike and the dog away, get the attention of the lead fireman, and point out that the smoke was, indeed, diminishing as they poured water on the log. Calm descended and rationality resumed.
This would all have been figured out eventually by the firemen (who are, after all, pros at this) but I’d like to think that my leaping up and down screaming had some salutary effect. At the very least, the sight of a middle-aged soprano troll doll having a fit in front of them slowed the heroic firemen down long enough to prevent them from axing holes in the ceiling.
Once everyone was quiet, it was easy to determine what had happened. The log had indeed caught – but all it did was smoulder. No visible flames, no smoke at room level – it had all risen and accumulated at the wire mesh spark guard on top of the chimney. It finally exited in a thick white mass: thus giving the impression that the accumulated soot inside the chimney had caught fire. Ta-da!
Oh was the general reaction. It must have just been … a smouldering log.
The water mess was happily confined to the fireplace itself. The walls were left un-axed. The neighbors were reassured. The firemen and the nephew did not come to territorial blows. The fire captain assured me that it was better to err on the side of caution, and they were glad not to have found a real fire. I thanked them all and sent them on their way with grateful waves; we opened all the doors and windows to let out the smoke smell, and sat around shaking for the rest of the afternoon.
Ray still has no idea it happened at all. But I have this feeling Kage does, and somewhere is stifling a snicker and saying, “Only you, kiddo.”
But, you know? It’s kind of comforting.