My friends and I are making dinner. Fajitas. Each of us has contributed ingredients and we are dicing, chopping and cooking while drinking wine and other various spirits and laughing laughing laughing. There is, as ever, music on and so we will occasionally burst into hearty, though ill-tuned, impromptu choral arrangements.
It is a fine evening. The summer weather is pleasant, the windows are open and there is an intermittent polite breeze. To steal a line from Mr. Vonnegut, “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Jake, as ever, is manning the production line and doling out jobs where necessary. Among his many considerable talents, his ability to conceptualize and execute large scale meals that are not only delicious, but damned fun to make, is at least in the top five of aforementioned talents (along with photography, basketball, videography and Yorke-ing). He is in the process of cooking steak in a large cast iron skillet on the oven while the rest of us, his wife Annie and I included, slice vegetables and make fun of one another. Amy is working on guacamole, Rob is on drinks and Nathan is our designated conversation starter.
“I need peppers and onions, guys,” Jake flips the strips of skirt steak in the skillet. They crackle and pop, much to his delight.
“Coming right up, there, dear,” Annie gathers a handful of green, red and yellow pepper strips and with a flourish, tosses them into the skillet. She raises her hands in triumph and turns back to the countertop where I am finishing the onions.
“Concentrate, Talley-face!” Annie is something like a little sister to me and delights in raising my ire whenever possible. She has her face directly in mine and scrunches her expression for effect. She puffs out her cheeks and then slaps them suddenly with her hands, breathing out onto me.
“Thank you,” I let my sardonic tone linger slowly as I wipe the spit from my eyes with the back of my wrist. She cackles maniacally- which she is getting better and better at. “Leave me be, will ya? I’m trying to execute here!” Suddenly, there is an ear-piercing, shrill chirping beep. I drop the knife and my hands quickly cover my ears.
It’s the steak. It’s burning. There is smoke everywhere. The alarm is going off. Amy runs to open the doors, Rob turns a fan on the smoke and Nathan goes looking for towels. The shrill chirping grows louder and more frequent. It is as though someone were clanging horseshoes with terrific force directly next to my ear.
“Only one thing to do, I guess. Right, Annie?” Jake shouts over the fracas.
“You’re very right, dear. You always are.” They look knowingly at each other.
With that, they begin licking the back of my neck.
“Ah! What the hell?! Eww! Stop that!” I am disgusted, horrified. More importantly, I am completely and totally panicked, but I cannot take my hands away from my ears to fight them off. I try to move, but they follow me. Lick lick lick.
“You guys! EW! Stop!!!”
They will not. Lick lick lick. I move, they follow. Lick lick lick. I turn, they turn. Lick lick lick. Still the shrieking banshee of a smoke detector goes off. Lick lick lick.
“Woody! Jesus Christ!” It is my dog. I am awake. I sit up, horrifically bewildered. My hands go to my temples and I try to make sense of what’s going on. The shrieking banshee of a smoke detector is real. This is negative. My friends, however, are not licking my neck.
The party responsible for the licking is sitting on my pillow. He will not move.
“Get off, asshole! You don’t belong on the pillow. You know that! Get down!”
He will not. The shriek continues. I stand on the bed to get at the smoke detector. The frequency it generates sails through my ears like a jackhammer through concrete. Outside of child birth and unanesthesthitized surgery, I cannot imagine anything more painful.
There are two buttons on its front face. MUTE and ALARM. Clear choice. Mute. For G-d’s sake, mute. Mute mute mute. I press it repeatedly. Mercifully, it stops. Woody and I both exhale a sigh of relief.
“What the expletive time is it?” There is no clock in the studio I am renting on vacation. I stumble around in the dark for my cell phone. 2:31am.
“G-D ALMIGHTY!!!” The alarm has begun again and my hands are at my ears. “What in the blue hell?! Shutupshutupshutup!!!” I climb on the bed again. Mute mute mute. It will not mute. MUTE MUTE MUTE! I am not pressing the button so much as I am flailing at it, punching it, pummeling it.
It’s at that moment that I notice a light flickering. “Low Battery”.
I drop my chin to my chest. A dramatized admission of defeat.
The smoke detector comes off of the wall easily enough. I remove the battery and throw it, with no small amount of ill will, into the trash can. The light goes on. Woody jumps off of the bed. I stand in the middle of the studio. One hand holds a lifeless smoke detector, the other rubs both of my eyes.
This is funnier if you know that I am in my underwear*.
I search the studio for batteries. Dishes, dishwashing detergent, towels, a bottle opener. Houseplants, DirecTV, a spare key, an encyclopedia. Lightbulbs, oven mitts (though there is no oven, so I suppose those are intended for purposes of fashion).
No batteries. Woody looks as concerned as I have ever seen him look. He comes and sits in front of me.
“I give up, Fur Face,” I scratch behind his ear. “If we burn, we burn. Just so long as no one else licks my neck.**”
I turn the light off and climb back into bed.
**Quite honestly, I’m now anticipating someone trying to lick the back of neck. It’s what people do to me. I expose my innermost fears and struggles and lay myself bare in these essays/stories and you bastards then feel as though it’s your right to repeat the same travesties I’ve bemoaned online. People run their hands through my hair, people ask me where the cottage cheese is, et cetera. You’re bastards, every last one of you- oh, and I’m wearing turtlenecks for the rest of my life. You’ll only have the satisfaction of tasting cotton/poly blends!