J.P. Henderhorff was old. But, more important than his being old, J.P. Henderhorff was comfortable. He was very comfortable. The old man had just settled into his large red recliner, the one that conformed so perfectly with his angular frame, that lovely chair, a gift from his grandchildren, a token of their love (though really an excuse not to visit him), when the fire alarm for his building went off. Rhythmic, grating shrieks, a howling banshee, a thin one, looking for crackers. But J.P. did not have any crackers. What an inconvenience, he thought. His breathing had finally slowed (sitting exhausted him), his back had sunken into the cushion, and he had just picked up the remote and aimed it at the television, his arm steadying to hit the blue button that would spring the black screen back to life.
J.P. turned from what was almost the Golf Channel to identify the source of the noise. He finally noticed his apartment was opaque, that there were cloud shapes floating past the insides of his windows; and at first he thought the smoke was coming from the oven, that maybe his wife had forgotten a tray of sweets that was burning, until he remembered that his wife was dead, a fact he was constantly forgetting, one he oft caught himself in the middle of when shouted her name for her to come help him look for where he'd lost the remote control.
(She had fallen down three flights of stairs, his wife, on her way up from grocery shopping, slipped on a slimy new egg that she dropped.)
J.P. let out an old man’s “Oh!”, the kind of sound flour makes when you pour milk into it, the sound something dry makes when it is both wet and dry simultaneously, and he rose from his chair, slowly, wincing in pain when both of his knees popped.
Pop. Pop. Pain.
J.P. stared at the door in front of him. Smoke was sneaking through the gap at the bottom of the frame in billowy puffs. He thought about the stairs. All those God damn stairs he would walk down. Who says you can’t use an elevator in a fire, he thought. Who the hell says? And again the thought of the stairs exhausted him. There was no way an old man such as he would be able to walk eleven concrete flights, his knees popping painfully all the while.
Pop, pop, pop. He winced at the thought.
He bent forward slightly and leaned back, letting gravity take over. He fell backward into the chair and settled in, reassumed his comfortable position, closed his eyes. He breathed in deep through his nose and smiled. When the smoke started making him delirious, the smile grew wider: grew and grew in anticipation of the baked goods his wife would soon be waddling out him, her asking who was hungry while the platter smoked between her mittens protecting her thin and bony fingers.