I was lying in state when the cell phone rang. My better half however, was awake, downstairs and feeding the cat. In fact she was mid-kibble when a lilting Caribbean tune wafted out of the study and caused my wife of seventeen years to stop, cock her head and look up at the Grandfather clock. ‘1:00 AM , who’s calling him at 1:00 AM?’, Shelly thought as she glanced out the window and saw Unit 4 parked in the darkened driveway. That’s when it hit her. ‘Unit Four!’ Dropping the bag of cat food, she hustled upstairs toward the noise while the world’s most spoiled feline moved in on the unexpected buffet.
At first, I believed her to be a dream. There she was, standing over me and speaking in strange pops and clicks while I tried desperately to blink it all away. Finally, I focused on that haunting item in her left hand - my work phone, it’s blue and red lights casting weird shadows on the surface of my mind’s eye. That could only mean one thing and though it felt like fighting quicksand, I struggled to emerge from my sleep-induced coma. “ShoobudaWHU?” I yelped, rising out of bed like some deranged zombie. With the precision of a prizefighter, Shelly back-pedaled - all too versed in the moonlit ritual that was about to follow. See, I’m as deep a sleeper as she is light and since the dawn of the 90’s she’s had to wrestle me out of the hereafter.
“Your phone rang. I couldn’t get to it in time.” she spoke slowly in crisp syllables, very much like the seasoned Emergency Room nurse she is. Not that I was listening. I was too busy spinning in circles, a furry, whirling dervish of boxers and bedhead. Seems someone had poured Maple Syrup over my eyes and brain in the hour since I fell asleep. Finding my glasses helped my vision, but my thoughts or lack thereof, were still covered in sticky, sleepy goop. “Your phone!” Shelly half-shouted, thrusting the vile invention in my palm. I looked down as my fingers automatically drummed a tattoo over the glowing buttons. My wife, meanwhile worked to extricate me from a knot of bedcovers while I scrunched my brow at the disembodied voice...
“Stew- sorry to call, we got a bad apartment fire up on North Church Street.”
The words ‘apartment fire’ ripped any vestige of rest from my overtaxed brain and I dropped the cell phone on the bed beside me. I also dropped a few choice pejoratives, a familiar late night litany that only caused my wife to further roll her eyes. As she did, I stepped squarely into a pillow on the floor and nearly lost my balance. Instead I pivoted and caught myself before lunging into our walk-in closet, muttering Martian curses all the way. A pair of shorts, a t-shirt and an El Ocho ballcap later, I emerged, fumbling for car keys, camera and flip-flops as I raged at the unforgivable insipidity of it all. Stumbling toward the staircase, I nearly took out the cat as the damn thing slunk upstairs on a swollen belly. Moments later, I was out the door and squealing tires down the driveway, never once having uttered a totally coherent sentence.
In the darkness, Shelly curled up with a rather gassy cat and, for not the first time in a long successful marriage, wondered what in the world those people at the station must think of her husband.
I’ve never thought to ask...