I set the kitchen on fire two nights ago. David was in Atlanta for work, and the kids and I had stopped off at the grocery store after school to pick up some fresh food to cook for dinner. It’d been a week of scraping together leftovers and take-out, so I was actually excited to get back to a routine. I’d found a recipe for zucchini noodles in an avocado pesto sauce (Don’t laugh. I like that kind of stuff, okay? STOP LAUGHING), and picked up some burgers to make for the kids, because I’m not a monster who only feeds my kids zoodles.
It was seriously the perfect afternoon. The kids played outside (Quinlan just learned how to ride a bike, which means that she pulled her old, too-small bike out of the garage, got on it, and started pedaling–because that’s just how the Mighty rolls) while I put the groceries away and started dinner. They’d gotten their homework finished, and we had a wide-open evening ahead of us, and I’d promised them a cozy dinner and then some time to curl up together in front of the TV before bed. I threw the burgers on the stovetop grill, and immediately remembered why I hated cooking meat, because the grease was splattering everywhere. Nevertheless, I persisted. I busied myself with other chores around the kitchen while they cooked, said hi to the kids when they came back inside and washed up before settling in the living room–the girls were reading while Cian played with some toys (told you, it was the chillest of days)–then put some olive oil into a pan to heat. And then–I never, ever do this, so not so sure where my head was–I let the oil get too hot. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that it was smoking, or that grease had spattered all over the burner, which are kind of big deals.
But that hot oil got my attention really quickly, trust me. I put some of the zucchini into the pan and the next thing I knew there were flames billowing up and out and spreading under my cabinets and shooting up through the microwave vent and out the top to the cabinets above it, headed in a fearful hurry for the ceiling. I screamed, yes. And I saw the fire under the wood of the cabinets in front of me and for a long solid moment thought, Welp, this is it. I never really liked this house, but it’s really going to suck to lose it.
I yelled at the kids to get out of the house–they were already on their way out the front door, thank goodness, because all those times we’ve set off the smoke alarms cooking breakfast are good for something–and in the same breath turned off the burner, moved the pan, and found a lid to drop on top of it. The fire went out as quickly as it started, eating through the grease and evaporating like a nightmare. As I stood there for another minute longer, shaking, my heart was already beating with every “What could’ve happened” that ran through my brain.
I went out to check on the kids, who were fine but shaking on the front walk (they’d already gotten their showers and changed into pajamas because of that sweet, comfortable evening we’d been planning on having). They happily agreed to stay outside while I opened all the windows and cleared out the house, the lower rooms of which were filled with white smoke (but our alarms never went off, you guys. David can’t cook bacon without those things screaming at us. But a house actually containing a real fire? Nothing), and they ate a dinner of burgers and pickles and said that that was just a little bit scary. Quinlan finally laughed and said that I should work in a Greek restaurant as one of the chefs who lights the saganaki on fire.
For some reason, I couldn’t laugh as hard as she did.
We talked that evening about what I did right in that situation: turning off the flame, putting a lid the pan. Quinlan said she doesn’t have to worry about it because “Uh-uh. I’m never going near the stove again.” I complimented the kids on their instincts to rush out of the house. And then I called David and told him. Later, I posted the story on Facebook so that when the kids came into school the next day telling their friends that I’d flambéed our house, the parents would know what really happened. (“It was just the microwave, children. Saoirse’s mom only flambéed the microwave.”)
So here’s the damage: the microwave’s gone. The bottom is melted away, the motor doesn’t work, and there are ashes (of…what?) in the top part of the hood. I just opened the door of it without thinking to reheat some coffee (never mind the charring on the inside), and the smell that hit me in the face was enough to make me flash back. As I said online that night, the wall behind the stove, the ceiling above it, and the underside of the cabinets are all pretty much seared in a way best reserved for tuna steaks (not that I’ll be cooking anything like that in the near future). The smell is only bad in certain areas, and the pan escaped unscathed (stainless steel: it’ll still here long after I’ve burned down the planet). In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing. We are lucky.
We are so, so lucky.
I’m writing this down to remember it. To remember to be careful. To remember to keep my mind in the moment when I do potentially dangerous things: driving. Using a knife. Cooking zoodles. And also because, when David later calls to ask me how everything’s going, and I say, “It’s fine. We’re all good,” I mean it.
Because we are. We might smell a little like we’ve been roasting marshmallows over a flaming vat of lard, but we’re okay.
And we’re most definitely ordering take-out tonight without feeling guilty about it at all.