Fire drill

The last three days have been a clumsy stumble through my thoughts and over my feet, and suddenly I’m gripped with almost paralyzing fear. I expected to feel profound sadness, but I didn’t know I’d get this scared. Fear over absolutely nothing and then everything all at once. It’s like a scene in a movie where you suddenly notice the ghost of a little girl peeking inside the window.

This morning at 5 AM the smoke detectors in my room and Leta’s room started beeping. The piercing sound lasted about ten seconds and then stopped just as abruptly as it had started. Five minutes later the smoke detector in Marlo’s room followed suit. This duet between sets of detectors continued every five minutes, and I held Leta in my arms the entire time, her body trembling with the idea that the house was about to burn down, her quivering lower lip a physical manifestation of what is going on inside my heart.

I turned on the monitor to check on Marlo, and since she was just lying in her crib singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star — well, a sort of warbling hybrid of that and the Isty Bitsy Spider because songs are just continuations of other songs, it’s all just music to her — I decided to leave her to her party while Leta and I checked the house to see if anything was amiss. She gripped my leg as I walked, the same way I used to grip my mother’s leg when I was scared. My older child looks almost nothing like me, but the differences stop there. Every molecule of blood in our bodies flows to a shared rhythm.

Nothing in the house was out of place, and while I looked at the map of circuit breakers in the basement with my wild-haired miniature worrier wrapped around my waist the smoke detectors decided to go back to sleep.

“Why did they make that noise, Mom?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure,” I answered. “I guess they just malfunctioned.”

“But why?” she pressed.

“I don’t know, Leta,” I said. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I just don’t know the answer.”