I caught the first whiff of the latent but impending danger as my daughter was preparing dinner. The smell was vaguely familiar, in a bad way, but was lost in a jumble of wonderful cooking aromas and quickly forgotten.
In the following hours, the smell of meatloaf permeated our home. Friends and family may be surprised to learn that I was entranced by the fragrant smell of the cooking flesh as red meat hasn’t passed my lips in years; however this loaf was loaded with veggies and bread which undoubtedly contributed to its enticing aroma.
The meal was cooked, served and consumed without incident, a detail I will insert at this point—once again for the benefit of family and friends who will be tempted to jump to hasty and inaccurate conclusions as the story unfolds.
Fire, you see, is a normal component of kitchen life in our home. Just as you might ask as family member to say, grab the flour from the pantry, we might ask someone to drop a flaming spatula into the sink; or open the windows to dissipate the haze.
Regulars no longer bat an eye at the sight of flames leaping from my stove top or oven; although once a kitchen conversation with my friend, Kathy, ended in some commotion over the discovery that my sleeve was on fire. Her fireman husband actually heard the “I’m on fire!” cry in the living room, but he disregarded the alarm as commonplace conversation and failed to respond.
Despite reasonable expectations to the contrary, casualties have been limited to the occasional spatula, bread bag or item of Tupperware.
Which was why a wave of recognition washed over me when the fumes reemerged as we were cleaning up after dinner. I’d smelled that chemical, laced-with-death scent in the aftermath of many a kitchen fire. Burning plastic!
For a steady fifteen minutes we searched to no avail for the spatula that had fallen, aflame, beneath the stove, or the piece smoldering Tupperware lurking somewhere beneath the scrubbed-down surface of our kitchen counters.
Nothing. Not so much as a plume of smoke or a warm surface was found.
Puzzled, we widened the parameter of our search, and discovered a crispy plug hanging tentatively from an outlet in our daughter’s room. Half in and half out, the plug must have shorted the circuit. Could have been worse, we thought as we headed out for ice cream.
Arriving home, we found the house had filled anew with the troublesome stench. Our daughter went to her room and returned with the report that her wall was hot. I wanted to call the fire department, but my husband insisted on “checking things out” for himself. Cutting the power to the upstairs, he ascended the steps with a flashlight. Feeling like a fiddler aboard the Titanic, I carried on--puttering about the kitchen, fixing a plate of leftovers for one of my daughter’s hungry friends, puzzling over the impending headlines: Woman Feeds Teen, Washes Sink While House Burns.
With the power off, the wall eventually cooled and the smell disappeared.
While we still have no power in the upper regions of our home, and our daughter continues to camp on a downstairs sofa, my husband’s electrician friends assure us that a sound plan is in place to rectify our electrical issues.
Perhaps, then those ill-fated musicians aboard the sinking craft had it right after all. Perhaps in the face of danger there are those who simply must carry on, feeding the young, entertaining the masses, carrying on the specter of normal in the face of the unthinkable.
So, my friends, should you pass my home and hear cries of fire or smell the stench of flame—-fear not. Carry on in full confidence that you are bearing witness to nothing more than a normal day.