He didn’t hear the alarm, but by the time the fire reached his floor, he smelled the smoke.
Outside, far below his balcony, firemen and police scrambled like ants to extend ladders, erect barricades, and treat the wounded. All of it a tiny blur against grey asphalt. He waved down to them, hoped they could see him, hoped they realized someone else remained above it all–above the poverty and problems of little people, above the ants on the pavement.
He uncorked a bottle of Penfolds Grange 2007, pulled a crystal wine glass from the rack over the sink, and sniffed the cork. It needed to breathe for a moment, long enough to oxidize slightly, to take on the deeper flavors his tongue alone could appreciate.
The living room door proved cool to the touch, but when he opened it, a cloud of smoke billowed in–pressboard and drywall, melting plastic, and the acrid tang of flame-resistant polyester carpeting. The electricity failed and the emergency lights clicked on as he slammed the living room closed.
The building shook, a single vibration that carried a thousand smaller harmonics inside it, and he knew one of the great windows had exploded. He rushed to see it, but couldn’t. It’s one just below me. The fire’s right beneath me.
A hand to the floor confirmed his suspicion. Smoke started billowing up through the air vents and suddenly it became real–the danger of burning alive.
He waved to the people below, shouted something–a sound, a grunt, a bark–but didn’t know if they could hear. A teacher once told him he’d know shouting by the pain in his throat afterward, but he didn’t have that long.
Fine white smoke filled the apartment but he made his way to dining room. The bottle of wine sat on the table. He picked it up and a tear slid down his cheek. They have to know I’m up here.
He tossed the magnum over the balcony, watched it sail to the ground, counted to eight before it smashed on the concrete below. A smile curled his lips as two firemen inspected the red smear of nectar. They looked up and he waved, hands high overhead.
His cellphone vibrated and a text came through. “Are you in Penthouse 2B?”
A long pause.
“You’re the deaf neighbor?”
“Did you drop the bottle of 2007 to get our attention?”
The pause stretched out–a minute, two, five, ten–as the smoke in the room grew thicker. The fire engines began to pull out.
“Where are you going? I’m trapped up here!” he tapped furiously.
For another long span, silence. Then, “The Chief wanted you to know it’s nothing to do with your being deaf, but you could’ve dropped anything. We’ve a strict ‘No Philistines’ policy when it comes to who we rescue.”