“We’re going to die because of this cat,” Ant declared, desperation punctuating every syllable. He was on his knees by the bed, head down, trying to convince Red to come out. In the hallway the fire alarm demanded our attention.

Ant wasn’t wrong. If it came down to it, all of our efforts would go toward protecting Red at all costs. He’s our whole life. When we finally started making enough money to stop living pay-cheque to pay-cheque, the only real lifestyle change we made was investing in higher grade food for Red. No more grocery store junk for our boy.

“Come on, Red,” I pleaded from the opposite side of the bed, tapping on his carrier. Red lay down in the center beneath the bed, just beyond either of our grasps. His stance was stiff, his fur rigid along his spine. He stared straight ahead.

Red is a careful cat. At 5 and a half years old, he knows the dangers of the world. He knows of the perils attached to plastic bags, shoes worn indoors and strangers. He’s proactive in the face of fear, quick to get low and scamper to the safety that can only be found beneath the bed.

That’s exactly what had happened less than five minutes before the three of us found ourselves in this frantic scene. There had been a bang. A loud one. It shook the whole apartment. On cue, Red had scurried across the living room, down the hall and to the bedroom, where Ant had been taking a nap.

“Ant,” I’d called out. “Do you think someone dropped something? Should you go check?”

In my head I pictured a man, a couple of men maybe, carrying a large appliance, a refrigerator maybe, down the stairwell outside our door. I imagined a slip, someone being crushed by the impact.

“I think it was an explosion,” was Ant’s response.

“An explo-” before I could even utter the word, a loud wail pierced the air. Ant and I were then both on our feet. We rushed to the front door. Ant opened it up and there was darkness.

The darkness was expected, actually. They had been doing maintenance on the electrical panels all day. We hadn’t had power since the morning, and just recently the generators for the hallways and staircases had gone out. The day had been off from the beginning.

Red is a cat who loves routine. He thrives on it. He begins his daily lunch campaign at 11am, and puts himself to sleep at the foot of the bed at 11pm. He investigates all foreign objects introduced to the house slowly, only after determining they pose no threat. If Ant and I do anything out of the ordinary, like placing coat hangers on our heads, for example, Red is on high alert. The stillness from the lack of electricity had had Red on high alert all day, we could tell.

“I smell smoke,” Ant had declared, coming back into the apartment. Smoke and a fire alarm. We had to get Red. I grabbed his carrier from the front closet, and his favourite treats, and we went to get him. We knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“Please Red,” I begged, seeing only the light reflecting off of his perfectly round eyes. I shook his carton of treats encouragingly, trying to keep my voice calm. “I know this is scary, but we have to get out.”

Red hadn’t always been like this. When we’d first adopted him he was a 2 ounce, four week old black dandelion fluff with excited blue eyes. He nearly ran off the elevated front porch the day we picked him up. He didn’t care about leaving his biological mother. He didn’t once consider what could happen once he wasn’t on the safety of the porch anymore. Or what lay beneath.

For the first year or so of Red’s life, he faced everything head on, those big saucer eyes always in wonder of the world around him. Taking it all in. But slowly, as humans and cats alike do, Red became more aware of the dangers of the world as they presented themselves to him. Rogue bags, heavy footwear, visitors who stare straight down at you without breaking eye contact. Those things put big fear in little Red. He became a scaredy cat. Nearly two years back when we’d first moved to this apartment, he’d spent a good two weeks hiding beneath the bed sheets, only venturing out for food and bathroom breaks.

“Let’s just move the bed,” I decided. I felt horrible about it. I knew this could scar him even further. Another traumatizing event to add to the list. But the unrelenting fire alarm meant we had to take action. As we pushed the bed, unearthing Red, he didn’t scramble to stay beneath it. He didn’t bite or scratch as Ant finally picked him up. He didn’t try to escape as I put him in the carrier, like he might have if we were going to the vet.

Now we were free to get out. That’s when the gravity of the situation started to weigh me down. How could I leave my apartment, my possessions behind to potentially burn? Could this really be the last time I was seeing everything inside my home?

Contrary to the strict rules of every fire drill I’ve ever taken part in, I knew I wanted to grab one more thing. I surveyed the room in panic. My work laptop? My copy of Michelle Obama’s Becoming that I was halfway through? Those things were replaceable. Not worth delaying our escape. In the end, I ran back to our bedroom for Red’s prized possession, his torn up little Panda plush toy that we’d gotten for free at a Chinese restaurant when he was just 3 months old. I hoped it would bring him comfort in what was about to be a harrowing time in his usually uneventful life.

Outside of the building, we sat on the curb, Red’s carrier placed between us. There were tons of resident pets out there already. Mostly dogs, but to my left a teenage boy had a grey cat in his carrier too. I wondered if he’d had to wrestle him out from under the bed too. I wondered if he was as scared as Red. I opened up the top flap of Red’s carrier to pet him and discovered he was purring.

When I glanced at Red through the mesh carrier, I realized he didn’t seem half as scared as I was. His big saucer eyes were staring out in wonder of the world around him. Taking it all in. The whole time we were out there, he didn’t once cry. He didn’t even whimper or whine like a lot of the bigger dogs were doing. When a neighbour asked to pet him, Red didn’t hiss or bite. In the face of uncertainty, Red was calm, cool and collected. He was a lot braver than we gave him credit for.

As it turned out, the electricians had had an arc flash in the electrical panel, which had caused the sound of the explosion, and the smoke that set off the fire alarms. Luckily, nothing had caught on fire, and we were allowed to return to our apartments fairly quickly. A false alarm, but an alarming one at that.

It’s been a few days now since the fire alarm, and we’ve left Red’s carrier out since. Every so often, he takes it upon himself to climb inside, ready for his next adventure.



7 thoughts on “The Fire Alarm

  1. “If Ant and I do anything out of the ordinary, like placing coat hangers on our heads, for example, Red is on high alert.”

    Please tell me that the next post will be about the time you and Ant placed coat hangers on your heads. Or that this post already exists somewhere. Because it sounds like there’s a story there…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Would’ve taken the same risk with our cat (tho’ she would’ve dashed away if we’d moved the bed like that). Love the detail of choosing the cat toy over more important items. Admittedly I wouldn’t have been so considerate.


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