The sun shone in through the open window into the little kitchen of an apartment nestled in the Marina. Kim arranged the red bell peppers on a cookie sheet lined with foil, taking great care to place them just right. Soon her guests would arrive; her mother and step father and baby nephew Andrew, and on the other hand, her boy friend and her old college room mate. She would wow them one and all with her culinary supremacy, starting with these roasted peppers and finishing with a desert of sour cream dipped strawberries and brown sugar. With the peppers in the oven she moved to the skillet where she planned to fry some spicy Italian sausages. The olive oil was warming in the pan when the phone rang in the living room. She turned off the fire and hurried to answer it.
“Hello?” she said into the receiver barely catching it on the sixth ring.
“Hi Baby, how’s it going?” asked Max, her boy friend.
“Great.” She chirped, “Are you almost here?”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to make it.” He said. His tone was too calm, too untroubled. There was a stunned silence on her end. In a moment, however, she recovered her tongue and launched into an interrogation. She wanted to know whether or not he was high, why couldn’t he come if he wasn’t high, he was supposed to have been on his way a half hour ago, what happened, who was he with, didn’t he know how hard she had worked, didn’t he care at all, and so on. Her voice rose in pitch as she fired questions off with the rapidity of a small dog’s angered barking. His answers all came barbed with criticisms of her and relics of ancient arguments, insinuations of her own guilt in this matter of his absence. Soon she was crying and he was yelling and then she was screaming and his voice was shaking. They chased one another in circles with their ring around the words game, each participant growing more and more hysterical as the match progressed. The apartment filled with smoke. Kim scarcely noticed it until suddenly she was roused from her nightmarish entanglement via the telephone by the sound of the doorbell. It was then that she noticed the smoke. She could barely breath.
“I have to go.” she snapped into the receiver, “My apartment’s on fire.” And she hung up and hurried to the door flinging it open. Her mother and step father stood there with baby Andrew between them. They coughed and stared in horror at the smoke pouring out to greet them. Kim scarcely looked at them with her tear streaked face. All of the mascara had run off her lashes and formed morbid black circles around her puffy red eyes. They cringed at the sight of this creature with billows of smoke rushing out of the door past its forlorn shape. She turned on her heels and ran coughing to the kitchen.
“Oh my God Kim!” Her mother was saying, but Kim was already out of sight, braving the inferno. The smoke alarm began to howl belatedly and the telephone proceeded to ring and baby Andrew, not to be outdone at the fine age of two, joined in with his own wailing.
“I’m going to take the baby outside.” Her mother said scooping weeping little Andrew up in her arms.
“I’ll see if Kim needs a hand,” her step father said, stepping over the threshold into the smoky apartment. Her mother snorted in response and headed back towards the elevator.
“Kim?” Her step father called over the din, batting at the smoke with one hand. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine!” she shouted too passionately for the words to be convincing.
She came flying out of the kitchen and started throwing open all of the windows.
“It’s fine, it’s fine.” She repeated, chest heaving as she jerked the phone out of the wall and threw it on to the sofa silencing its jingle. Then she leaped over an easy chair, skirt flapping, and snatched the welcome mat from the floor. She was still vigorously fanning the air near the smoke detector when her old friend Emily stepped in. Kim’s step father had ventured into the kitchen and now re-emerged with a cookie sheet upon which eight small charred lumps were smoldering.
“What’s this?” he asked, eyeing the lumps curiously.
“Dinner.” Kim huffed before bursting into fresh sobs.
Emily who had been surveying the scene felt her jaw drop. Then she said,
“I’ll order a pizza.”