Why is it that no one has ever noticed that the commencement of flu-season and mid-term season coincide? Or, I've come to wonder, have the powers that be noticed, but masochistically revel in the near-death experiences of studying students?
The hour was late. Hacking sounds emanated from my chest, torturing the back muscles spanning my rib cage and doubling me over in the shadow of the bathroom door. Shedding my clothes, I stepped into the shower and let the hot water regulate my body temperature. I stayed under the jets until my energy was spent, then turned off the taps, wrapped my long hair into a towel, struggled commando into T-shirt and sweats, and toddled my way down the hall. Drained, I collapsed into a ball on the couch.
I was now in the third year of my BA, and it seemed to me that every time mid-terms approached, flu bit me. Cramming knowledge into my brain apparently craps out my immune system.
On this occasion, my exam schedule spanned more than a week, and I had been ill for the duration. I was three down, two to go, and my house had started to resemble the shanties found in third-world garbage dump slums. Scattered piles of laundry blocked door jams; used Kleenex and cough drop wrappers lay like fallen soldiers scattered among the carnage of study notes and dumped text books on the living room floor. The couch was littered with blankets. You can imagine the kitchen.
After my divorce, I’d returned to university. I was a mom to four, so not only was my mid-term surfing, flu-ridden self wrecking the house, my four busy little heartbeats were tossing their marks onto our habitation. The place was a mess.
With the kids in bed, I lay on the couch waiting for energy. When it surfaced, I put the kettle on, started the dishwasher, slipped the movie Gladiator into the DVD player, then sank back against the pillows of the couch.
I had no energy for combing my hair, or for caring that it was drying in a plastered-down version of sick-person bedhead. As Maximus was being carted off into slavery, the soothing rhythms of the dishwasher saw me dozing off.
I woke abruptly with the movie at the halfway point and the feeling that something was wrong. The house, I realized, was full of smoke.
Adrenaline had me doing a quick search through the rooms in the house, but I couldn’t locate the fire. I grabbed car keys, purse, and cell phone, jammed myself into boots and coat, and woke the kids.
With four groggy children and their blankets plus Daisy, our Cocker Spaniel, jammed into the car, I backed away from the house and placed a call to 911.
EMT respondents made it to our home in minutes. An SUV and a firetruck dumped several young, male, buff firefighters into my yard. They were followed by the fire chief in his red all-terrain vehicle. While the firemen walked the perimeter of my property, the chief approached our car. He listened as I explained why I had called.
“OK,” he said. “We’ll go inside and look.”
The kids and I watched from the safety of the car as… nothing happened. One by one the firefighters who had entered exited the building and milled, somewhat aimlessly, near the firetruck. The chief re-approached.
“You’re right about the smoke,” he said. “Problem is, we can’t find the fire.”
He asked me to come out of the car and show him where the crawl spaces might be found. So, with my bed head in full array, my bra-less, T-shirt encased breasts swaying against the chill of the night, my voice husky with swollen, germ-ridden vocal chords, I followed the fireman around my house. Wasn't this every woman's fantasy? Errr, maybe not.
We walked the rooms of the house and found nothing but the disaster of my life. Together we experienced my iconic housekeeping skills. Alone inside my house with my very own heroic firefighter, I watched as his large black boot stepped into the middle of the pile of dirty laundry outside my bedroom door. He wore a poker face. I wore a feverish blush.
Not how the fireman fantasy is supposed to go!
In the end, it was one of the younger firefighters who discovered the source of the smoke. A plastic spatula had fallen under the dish-rack and onto the dishwasher heating coils, melting and smoking up the place.
“Yeesh,” I said, but my firefighter was kind.
“It happens a lot and does cause fire. You did the right thing tonight.”
Maximus was dying as our rescuers drove away. The kids and I went back to bed. In the morning, I made my feverish way into university.
And I aced my exam.