Stuff I Talk About

by Christina Ledbetter

Hot Stuff

An AC repair guy A man who claimed he was going to repair our air conditioner came to our house a few months ago. He had only one ear. “Been battlin’ skin cancer for ten years!” he yelled, motioning to the missing appendage. I was really hoping he’d lost it in a war or something because then I wouldn’t feel so concerned about losing my own ear. Don’t wanna lose an ear? Just don’t go to war. Easy peasy. Skin cancer seems a bit more possible though.

He also wanted to make sure we were on the same political lines. “Y’all aren’t staunch democrats, are ya?” I gave a sort of nervous, non-committal laugh.

Anyway, ever since that day I’ve been slathering sunscreen inside and outside my ears before my walks. My hopes are that the first 41 years of not wearing ear protection won’t count against me since I didn’t know, like maybe I can claim some sort of exemption.

Speaking of dangerous things, there was a WILDFIRE near my house a few weeks ago. A real, live wildfire where people had to evacuate and helicopters were dropping water. It all started (my part of the story, not the actual fire) when I sniffed the air of our guest room. Hmm? Billy must be barbecuing, I mused, imagining my neighbor flipping burgers for his pack of children.

Then I remembered their family was away at the beach for the week.

I stepped onto the screened porch and took another good sniff. Definitely fire. I shooed the cats inside and picked up my phone to see a neighborhood email with a link to a news article reporting the flames burning dozens and dozens of acres a few miles from here. That was it, just a link.

I need more than a link, people. I need instructions. I need: “Here’s the news but we’re all safe.” I need: “Here’s the article and you need to pack your valuables and get out now.” I called my other neighbor, Jonathan, and learned that he and his wife were preparing to pack a bag in case we needed to evacuate.

And this is how I’ll lose my home. This is what I get for bragging about getting a pool on Instagram.

For a split second I considered calling Benson who was on a business trip three hours away. But while I’m prone to theatrics, I’m equally as practical and opted not to bother him. No use interrupting his work dinner. I would have to save myself.

My first priority was pulling the cat carriers down from the top of the closet and tucking them into the bathroom should I need to shove Queso and Funzer headfirst into their confines. Next, I swiftly slipped our green folder containing passports and car titles from its place on the shelf and tossed it into the front seat of my car along with Chief’s leash. Then I grabbed a small backpack and stuffed it with my favorite yellow pants (which are discontinued and therefore irreplaceable) and two t-shirts (which maybe aren’t discontinued but I figured they’d look cute with the pants when mourners no doubt came to pay their condolences). I imagined myself living in my friend Ann’s guest room, nodding solemnly as visitors asked if the whole thing really burned to the ground.

Once I’d arranged my affairs, I broke into tears and texted my dad-in-law. He’s perfect in natural disaster situations. He’ll always pray, and he always has practical advice, too. Like he’ll remind me to pack water before I flee a hurricane, or tell me to drip faucets before an ice storm. He and my mom-in-law once gave us a hand-cranked radio for Christmas, which sounds like an odd gift until you live through six of Houston’s hundred year floods and have no power for two weeks.

My cats sensed my nerves and took to hiding. Chief warily followed me around the house, attuned to my every move.

My phone rang. An unknown number. I picked it up, certain it was the police telling me to get out while I had the chance. Instead, it was Joyce, a precious woman we’d met at the church the Sunday prior.

Joyce had greeted us as we made our way down the aisle in search of seats. She was the type of woman who shakes your hand but then places her other hand on your hand, too. Like a handshake hand hold. I LOVE handshakes like this. I feel instantly treasured. “I’m so glad you’re here!” she’d said.

“Thank you,” I replied, my hand in hers. “It’s our first time.”

“I know,” she beamed.

I’d ended up giving her our phone number, and she was simply calling to thank us for visiting the church.

“Joyce, you’ve caught me at a shaky time,” my voice quivered. “This fire…”

“Is it close to you?”

“Well, it’s close enough that I’ve been crying.”

Then she prayed for me and OFFERED TO COME HELP ME PACK.

Please God, let me be like Joyce when I’m her age.

I declined her offer. No need to pull Joyce into my fate.

Here’s the thing. I have no idea whether I was overreacting or not. I’ve zero experience with fires. If you told me that fires travel 60 miles per hour, I would believe you. If you told me they take days to travel one mile, I would believe that too. All I knew was that I smelled smoke and the images on the one news report I could find were showing blazes resembling car explosions on action movies.

Benson eventually heard of the hubbub all the way in Houston and called late that night.

“There’s no need for you to come home,” I claimed, vowing to drive myself and our herd of pets to safety should the need arise. Thank God he ignored me and began the drive home anyway. My courage was a farce, and I immediately felt better when he texted that he was coming home to me.

He made it to the house around two in the morning, waking me up long enough to tell me he couldn’t smell smoke.

For days we remained prepped to scoot out of town as firefighters fought the flames. Eventually though, they had it contained enough that I unpacked my yellow pants from the backpack, hung them back in the closet and got back to slathering my ears with sunscreen before walking down my road, unafraid of burning.

Categories: This and That

2 replies

  1. My FAVORITE writer is back…and better than ever:) ❤

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