Saturday, September 8

Gas Bill

It started off as a piercing beep, irregular and startling. One could attempt to measure the time between each beep, but there was no telling when it would ring out in my small flat and cause me to jump. The battery in a detector was running low. In the middle of my flat, next to the kitchen, there are three detectors; two smoke (presumably) and one carbon monoxide. But there were better things to do that evening: drink and write, for instance, so the alarm would have to wait until morning; besides, the beeps seemed to have calmed down. I went to bed and it had not beeped for a few hours. It beeped at half-five and I jumped awake. There were people in the street below that I could hear, they were drunk and arguing. My windows were open, and in the numb quiet of night every minor sound is amplified by the ear because we have evolved that way. (Listen to music when you wake up.) The alarm had shaken me out of a most unpleasant nightmare. I was thankful. I rolled over and fell back to sleep.
When I got home the next evening the beeps were spaced much closer together. I could have counted the seconds between each but I did not feel like it. I stood underneath the three alarms and determined that it was the carbon monoxide detector running low on battery. A pair of steps in the cupboard lifted me up and I removed it from the wall and its three AA batteries. Three batteries was a strange number, but I was one of three boys so it is not that strange after all. The three batteries were my brothers and I. The batteries were dumped in the bin, but not before a brief funeral of thanks for keeping me alive for the past god-knows-how-many months. I would buy some batteries – three AA batteries – another time.
The next morning – after a night of uninterrupted nightmares – I was preparing to leave for work when, glancing up to the spot on the wall where the carbon monoxide detector had been, I noticed that one of my smoke detectors had been replaced!
I was certain! yes, a new smoke detector!
The previous smoke detector had stood out to me because its plastic had snapped. It functioned perfectly but the off-white plastic case was chipped quite sizably and I had noticed it not long after I moved in three years ago. Even this detector was whiter than its predecessor! With my neck craned I shook my fist at the ceiling!
Not long after I moved into the flat, I began to become paranoid. I became paranoid that people were entering my flat without my being present. It damn near consumed me so that I double-locked the door every day when I went to work, and when I came home I noticed the position of everything to determine whether or not it had been moved or rearranged.
Truthfully it was a relief: I had been paranoid for a reason! I was not going insane, merely I was being perceptive! So there were people entering into my flat without my permission. I remembered: while I was staying at my parents’ I had received a telephone call, but thinking it was a work call I ignored it. Must have been someone coming to replace the fire alarm. And so this stranger entered my flat saw my books and my paintings of naked women and photographs of family and all of my plants.
What did I care?
I got home on Friday and was quite merry. After work I had gone drinking with some colleagues and we discussed relationship problems. I laughed a lot and shook my head. As I left, a very soft rain began to fall. It was quite something. Brown leaves are starting to fall, too; their presence somewhat rare in the city, but punctuating the scene significantly upon appearance! Ah, look, a descending leaf. It was soft autumnal rain. I would have to get used to soft autumnal rain like new underwear. The streets were darker; it was half-seven and the streets were darker.
When I got home the disemboweled carbon monoxide detector was still there, carved out with three coffins for AA batteries. I stared at it. I got out a piece of paper and a pen, and wrote—‘If you find me dead, it’s not my landlord’s fault, it’s mine. I took the batteries out of the carbon monoxide detector and have not yet replaced them. Please don’t sue. Signed…’ I put the note (the back of a gas bill envelope) onto the table and poured some tequila into a shot glass.
Today there is a barbecue for the residents of my apartment building. Normally I would support such a thing but to attend alone seems ill advised. When I go to the toilet I can hear the barbecue downstairs in full swing. There is music and chatting and it sounds as though they are having a right time. This beer is flowing right through me. I flush the toilet, wash my hands and go past and I can hear them all. It sounds good and I would like to attend but, no, I cannot. I pass the gas bill note and smile to myself. It is amusing. The corner shop sells AA batteries in packs of four. There will be one left over.

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