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The Day Off

4am: The smell of burnt toast awakens me. Is Matt drunk-cooking again? Is that a fan I hear down there, still faintly going? Will it be nasty-cold in the kitchen? I make a move to check. First, warm pants. Yesterday’s double black stretchies will do, underwear still in, just as I had shucked them last night at 8:30. I’m standing up and teeter on new feet. Look for shirt, already chilled all over. My bed will go cold before I get back. Something shows up and I put it on. Looking for my slippers. Probably under laundry piles. If I turn on a light I’ll truly wake up. I see striped socks in the dim and wobble over the pile to pick them out. Legs sore and toes like meat from work. In the hall, the smell is strengthened, add rubber.

I had joked this week at work that I must be having a stroke because I smelled burnt toast. The eye twitch may be a sign, I said. No one cared to chuckle, which is all I had sought. Google had a doodle the very next morning of a neuroscientist. A brain, a man smelling, and a slice of burnt toast, with cartoon arrows. The very next morning. Burnt toast is following me.

But this rubber undertone? Did Matt melt another pan handle on the stove? Or was it plastic on the toaster? Or maybe that shitty espresso maker? Opened the stairway door and the air was clear of any smells and only normally frigid. I stayed upstairs and sniffed at the other hallway, where Matt lives, a parallel one with a door leading from mine. All clear. I hate how we always assume it’s Matt, but…it’s happened enough. When the bathroom trash can is overturned or the shower curtain is dangling off a few hooks.

But the smell is only over here, by our side, then. Reese, next to me. Behind his door incessantly. Doing computer jobs in rocket science. An adorable lonely 19 year old with Buddy Holly glasses and aw-shucks blonde hair, not knowing which leg to stand on as he asks how I am today. I wish he didn’t have his own fridge or microwave in there. Has he acquired a toaster as well? The circuitry isn’t up to all of this. One of these days, that insanely piercing alarm will sound–

!FLEEP! !FLEEP! !FLEEP!

SMOKE DETECTED!

LEAVE THE BUILDING!

!FLEEP! !FLEEP! !FLEEP!

…and I’ll struggle to find my slippers—this time flipping on the light.

…and I’ll grope for my computer and smart phone,

!FLEEP! !FLEEP! !FLEEP!

LEAVE THE BUILDING!

…because they are all I have of value. People being elsewhere.

7am: And the snow has fallen softly all night and my rubber boots have sprung cracks since last time, which I patch with duct tape, knowing I’ll have to clean the goo off later, to officially patch them. When I sort out how to get to a bike shop or hardware and pay for a kit. Which will be easy, when it becomes clear to my brain how. Maybe longer, maybe soon. I go to the café with meaty pins floofing pretty white snow in every step. Bundled neighbors are shoveling walks. Bundled neighbors are brushing off cars. The duct tape, I know will be noticed by all who glance my way, once the icing melts on the wet café floor. I bet they’ve all done it too at one point or another. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the kind of gal who doesn’t duct tape her boots. Is it worth the aspiration?

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