Arriving home from work, I was about a block away when I could see the fire trucks–plural. As I got closer, I could see the people from the apartment amassed outside with their dogs. The pit of my stomach told me S was not in the crowd. A single phone call confirmed it.
I started to move faster, toward the door, toward the apartment employee and fireman ushering people out of the building. They yelled that I couldn’t come near and I yelled back that my husband was inside. They told me he wasn’t, but I said I just hung up the phone with him. They asked what floor. Twelve. And someone took off to get him. I called. Said “get the dog and get out”. I hung up.
After I hung up, I was chastised by management and by the firemen for my husband not leaving. I had to explain that he must not know what is going on. He must not recognize the fire alarm.
It was true—he didn’t.
It wasn’t until after this that the fireman came and said it was a false alarm. They had to check out the building a bit more, but believed it was safe. I was ushered back into the crowd, waiting for my husband to emerge from the doors, waiting for him to walk the dog down 12 flights of stairs, waiting to explain fire alarms.
Six firemen in full suits and gas masks exited the building before he got down. Three, less suited up, went back in.
He finally emerged at the point where I had already re-dialed the number to ask what was taking so long. Apparently in Chile, fire alarms are high pitched and constant, ringing like an annoying school bell. Apparently, from our side of the building he couldn’t hear the two fire engines roaring up the block and stopping at the entrance. Apparently he used the key hole to look out the door to see if it was an alarm going off, to see if there were robbers with guns roaming the hallway.
The head maintenanceman told me that if it had been a real emergency, living on the 12th floor, I would have been a widow. A widow without a dog. My husband told me it was a cultural moment. I told my husband that I loved him. Well, that I loved him and that next time he needed to leave the building.