I’m in Brighton with Lou. It’s half eleven. Lou is drifting off to sleep beside me. I picked up my phone to write my blog. I was going to write about taking Mao here. Maybe about the last minute panic to get the flat half decent. All of that went out the window when I read this text message, sent to me two hours ago:

“Hi Al..hope all is well, there is a smoke dectector going off a lot upstairs somewhere, sounds like a new tenant, maybe nit good at cooking or got the dectector in the kitchen instead of the reception room 🤦‍♂️”

Now I can’t sleep.

If the actual smoke detector is actually going off in my flat then that’s because my flat is on fire.

I was lucky enough to find a friend of Lou’s with a garage in Brighton. The car is there, under lock and key. I won’t be able to get it back tonight so a rush back up to London is out of the question. My messages don’t get through to this neighbour, who I hardly know. They come back rejected after a few minutes. Has the whole block burnt down?

I wasn’t cooking this morning. I lit no candles. I didn’t even make my usual coffee on the hob.

I have to look at the message and try to give myself some context. I tend to cook at about ten at night. I have an oven timer that I frequently use to time things, and I often leave it beeping to remind me there’s something left to do. I did this last night, and the two nights before. I often let it beep for over five minutes. Could it be that he’s a light sleeper and goes to bed early and this is him trying to preempt and prevent a fourth consecutive night of the unwanted beeping?

“There is a smoke detector going off a lot”. If it was going off when he wrote the text surely he’d just say “there is a smoke detector going off.” It’s going off “a lot”. Enough for him to start to get pissed off? Maybe (hopefully) this isn’t actually an emergency message. Maybe this is a passive aggressive neighbour finally plucking up the courage to address a regular source of annoyance. “A lot”. At least he knows it’s two words.

Then there’s the imaginary bad chef, the “new tenant” in Covid times.

I am a dangerously louche liberal who is probably murdering people with drugs in my flat. This is the accepted stance of my various neighbors, one of whom saw a guitar once when they were younger. I keep hours that are not normal and I frequently have facial hair. I am bad.

“A new tenant” he mumbles. “probably a prostitute criminal,” he says darkly to himself. *BeepBeep* “CAN’T EVEN FUCKING COOK!”

Maybe every time my oven timer has gone off over the last few weeks, he has grown more and more apoplectic with this covidrage we are all experiencing. He’s imagining some louche drug-liberal burning a nightly steak in his sandals with a smoke detector directly above the cooker and The Doors playing so loudly in his earphones that he can’t hear it to stop it.

Then we have the facepalm emoji… That doesn’t read like somebody who is worried the block is going to burn down imminently. You wouldn’t send a facepalm if an actual smoke alarm was blaring, would you? The emoji reads like somebody making a suggestion. “Ha ha you and I both know that only stupid people put the detector in the kitchen and not the reception room”. That’s what the emoji says. Hoping I will think “I’d better not look stupid. I’ll move the detector to my reception room.” But I don’t even have a reception room. What even is a reception room? I have a living room. And a corridor with a detector in it. Or I had a corridor. It might all be ash now…

There’s nothing I can do about it tonight. Either everything is ash or it isn’t. I hope it isn’t, but hope springs eternal. I think my textual analysis is correct and he’s just an awkward fucker timing his communication incredibly badly. That English degree of mine can come in handy sometimes.

I’m still going to call him first thing tomorrow. I’m still going to be worried until I’ve spoken to him. But I think now I’ve thought it out I ought to be able to sleep.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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