I go through the routine: bathroom, den to turn the computer on, then to the kitchen. I wash out a pot to cook more cream of wheat for breakfast, while the cats mill on the carpet of the breakfast nook, waiting for the their own breakfast. A smoke alarm is going off, somewhere in the building, and its ping-ping-ping registers on me faintly.
I pour a cup of water into the pot and set it on the stove.
The building's fire alarm goes off, a low, droning wang-wang-wang.
I leave the kitchen for the bedroom. "Fire alarm's going off," I say to Lut, my voice flat.
He jerks on the bed. "What?"
"That's the fire alarm," I repeat, pulling on clothes from the top of the dresser.
"The alarm didn't go off," Lut says, looking at his clock. Sometimes he picks up on an emergency a little faster than others. It sinks into him a moment later. He rolls to his feet and starts moving, too. "Where's the cat carrier?"
"It's -- oh, drat." The cardboard cat carrier I'd been using had been destroyed during their last trip to the vet's office. They'd promised me a replacement but I never collected on it. I check the closet anyway. "We don't have one. Will you carry a cat?"
"No other choice."
We move around the apartment. I collect a pudding and some of my medications, and look for a CD-ROM backup of my email and writings. I just ran one last night, but I am annoyed because I can't find that one. There's another one, however; I don't know how current it is but it's better than nothing. I grab it and stuff it in my purse.
I hear the sounds of Lut fixing his hair in the bathroom, and go to tell him that this is a fire alarm and it doesn't matter how he looks, but he's done already. "Which cat do you want?" I ask.
"OK." I collect a nervous-looking Ash and a spoon for the pudding. "I'm going to start down." I'm not sure what he's doing now, but we've taken long enough.
The alarm is several times louder outside in the hallway. Ash panics and sinks her claws into my shoulder. I seize her forepaws in one hand and turn her forcibly around, so that her feet and claws face away from me. The hallway seems hazy to me. I make it to the stairwell and start down the eight flights.
Around the sixth or fifth floor, the scent of smoke is strong, though it's not thick enough to obscure vision. I keep going down, focusing on moving. Ash mewls pitifully in my arms, her ears flat back and her body tense.
On the first floor, the alarm is even louder. I head for the nearest exit: "For emergency use only". Hello, emergency.
Outside, a couple of people mill beside the exit. We exchange greetings, and one of them asks, "Is it a false alarm or what?"
"No, it's not a prank. There's smoke in the stairwell. May not be serious, but not a prank." I start towards our car, about when Lut falls in beside me.
"Thank you, cat," Lut says to Branl. She's hanging in his arms, looking around occasionally, but not moving much.
"Was she good?"
"Yes. No trouble at all."
"I'm glad to hear it. Ash panicked."
"I figured. That's why I said I'd take thin cat."
We get into the car and Lut pulls out of the parking lot, moving the car around to the opposite side of the adjacent street. He pulls far enough forward that we can see around the corner, to where the fire trucks are pulled up, in front of the building.
"There's nothing in the apartment we can't replace with time," Lut says.
"No, there isn't. Thank you for grabbing a cat."
"What else could I do?" He smiles at me. "Maybe it's just as well we didn't have a cat carrier. If we had, I might have done something silly, like try to get my computer out."
I am annoyed, again, that I couldn't find the CD backup I had just run the previous evening. I share a bite of pudding with Lut, and the lid with Branl. Ash doesn't want any. I eat the rest and take the medicines I'd brought down. I'm supposed to use the mouthwash, too, but I didn't bring it.
Minutes pass. A few firemen walk back to one of the trucks. "That's a good sign," I say.
A moment later, the first truck pulls away, then the others follow. Relieved, we return our car to the parking lot. "Where was everybody?" Lut asks, wondering at the lack of other people evacuated. Dozens of cars remain in the parking lot, but almost no people. "Maybe they never woke up. That alarm wouldn't have gotten me up if you hadn't woken me." The building's alarm is resoundingly loud in the hallways, but the soundproofing is good enough that inside the apartments, it is only a loud drone. It's not immediately obvious what it is.
We go back in. Stella is in the lobby. I'd been worried about her; she's wheelchair-bound and I'm not sure if they've still got her stuck in a second-floor apartment. Her first-floor apartment was one of the flood-damaged ones from June. But I hadn't thought about her until after we were out. She's fine.
"Someone's stove caught fire on the fifth or sixth floor," she tells us. "They put it out."
We get back to the apartment, and I'm glad to see that I hadn't turned our stove on after putting the pot of water down.
I decide to have yogurt for the rest of my breakfast. I'm not that hungry now. I putter about, changing to work clothes, feeding the cats, reassuring Ash, checking my email.
We leave for work on time. My left arm, still sore from the IV, is worse from carrying Ash around, and Lut's legs hurt from walking down the stairs.
But we're all right.