A Close Call
January 27, 2014
On Sunday night Alice washed her sleeping cap and put it in the microwave to dry.
Maybe you can guess what happened next.
She reached into the microwave, grabbed the flaming cap, and ran water over it. Then she opened the door under the sink and dropped the cap into the wastebasket (still smoldering, but she didn’t know it because she cannot see her own hand any more).
She shut the cupboard door.
Then the smell of smoke.
She removed the cap from the wastebasket, made out the glow of embers, and ran more water over the poor, beloved, stinky thing. (She’s quite attached to this cap; Thalia gave it to her.)
After she put it into the wastebasket again, she rang the bell she uses to call for help. She thought someone official ought to come and review her fire extinguishing abilities.
She had not heard the thundering of hooves already headed in her direction because of the smoke alarm, which she also could not hear because she had taken her hearing aids out for the night.
Two medical aides burst through the door, yanked the damp, charred cap from the wastebasket, tossed it into the sink under running water, threw open all the windows onto a freezing night, bundled Alice into a cocoon of blankets and put her in the solarium while the apartment aired out, then hurried off to check to see that nothing else in the wastebasket had caught fire.
A few people from her end of the building came to look at her curiously and speak to her, but of course she still wasn’t wearing her hearing aids, so she had no idea what they were saying and she had no desire to fill them in on what had just happened.
“Then that pook came by and looked at me,” she said, referring to the unsociable man who lives at the end of the hall.
By “pook” she does not mean “a heap of something, such as hay” or a “fairy creature” or “a mysterious lover,” or any of the other meanings I could find just now when I quickly looked it up online. She has used that term all my life, and I know what she means. She said hello to this man about twenty times before she finally gave up and realized he would never respond to her greetings. Therefore, he is a pook.
She turned her head away from the pook and tried to ignore him.
When the aides closed the windows and brought Alice back into her apartment, she called me.
“I started a fire!” she announced, right smack in the middle of Downton Abbey during which Lady Mary was droning on in her upper class monotone and absolutely nothing dramatic was happening. I turned off the television set.
Alice told me everything that had happened. She said she was surprised that you could not dry things in the microwave. “Somebody told me you could,” she insisted, and there was the slightest hint in her voice that it might have been me.
I’ve never heard of such a thing and assured her I was not the one. “Well then,” she said, “I must have read it somewhere.”
How could her sleeping cap, which she used to keep her hair from being mussed in the night, possibly be dirty, I wondered. She has very little hair left and either she washes it or the woman in the salon washes it regularly.
“Oh of course that cap was dirty,” she said laughing. “I’ve been wearing it for a whole week without washing it.”
She doesn’t always dry it in the microwave, she said, but she thought she’d give it a try because she had shampooed her hair earlier in the evening and she was tired and wanted to put on her cap and go to bed.
“I won’t do that again,” she said, suddenly sober. She quietly considered what she was now calling her foolishness. “I hope nobody says anything to me about it tomorrow. Maybe I won’t go down to the dining room.”
I encouraged her to face the music, if there was any. She had to eat, sooner or later.
I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night, eyes flying wide open, thinking about what could have happened. The river slept, the herons slept, the cormorants, the Mergansers, the fish, even the beavers all slept outside my window, but sleep stayed very far away from me.
When Alice appeared in the dining room, there was no music to face, other than Mirabel’s piano playing. Nobody seemed to even know about the incident, she called to say, or maybe the gossip machine had not yet started rolling.
After she described her peaceful lunch of meatloaf, salad, a small piece of tasteless pastry and no accusing looks, she told me she would like a turban. “I think I better have one,” she said. “The wig is starting to hurt my scalp. I think black is best, don’t you? See if you can find one for me.”
As my friend Kathy pointed out today, as long as Alice is here on this earth, she will find things for me to go do.
And so I am now in search of a black turban, and I perform this search gladly, thankful that my mother did not become the Mrs. O’Leary of The Place.