Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 10.24.14
Stanstead, Quebec


Smoke defective

The smoke detector went off just before 3 a.m. and I leaped out of bed like it was an Olympic event. If there had been an actual fire, the tumultuous flapping of the blankets would have fed the flames to a frenzy.

"Oh my God!" I cried. Deb claims I flung myself across the bed and nearly headbutted her, but I maintain I hit the floor at the foot of the bed and sped out into the hall. Remember this discrepancy the next time you hear a so-called "eye-witness account."

So, no, I wasn't calm under pressure, but I didn't panic. No, sir, I didn't, probably because by the time I got to the hallway to rouse the children, the beeping had stopped, and instead of the choking fog of smoke, the floor was filled with the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread.

Death by toast inhalation -- very rare.

We had put a loaf on in the bread-maker prior to going to bed, and something in the baking must have triggered the alarm. I went downstairs to check -- nothing burning. I scanned the house, sniffed around the basement. Everything was fine. Well, the basement never smells fine. Everything was normal.

I went back to bed. Ten minutes later, it went off again. I re-checked the house. After the third time, another ten minutes later, I unhooked the detector from the wall and brought it into the bathroom. I was trying to read the tiny print on the back through 3:30 eyes when it went off in my hand. Good thing I was in the bathroom. I took out the battery and crawled back into bed.

And then I lay there awake for another hour. This is what happens when you suffer a near-bread experience.

The thing is, I really wanted to sleep. It had been a tiring week, and the night before I had gone to bed while my young-adult children and their young-adult cousins partied loudly downstairs. They are all freshmen in the school of drinking, and they were cramming. I put in earplugs after a while. Earplugs do a pretty good job of blocking noise but earplugs can't block the feeling you're wearing earplugs.

So I was tired. We had ended the following day by driving our eldest daughter back to Montreal. As I stood in her apartment hallway, I looked up and saw her smoke detector hanging open -- battery-less.

"Replace your battery," I scolded.

This was after I had to squint at the sesame seeds on her counter to make sure they weren't moving. Her housekeeping skills are a work in progress, but the battery was a priority.

With all the late nights and the travel, I should have been able to drift right back to sleep. Instead, I lay there thinking, what if there really had been a fire? Why, for example, hadn't the at-home children sprung out of their rooms and raced for our pre-designated meeting place, the tree at the end of our driveway? When I asked the next morning, one child said he had heard the smoke detector, one thought she was dreaming and one asked, "Is that what that was?" They were also two-for-three in recalling the pre-designated tree.

And what about the pets? Would I have to save the pets? There's a conspiracy afoot in the house right now to acquire a puppy in addition to the full-grown dog and four cats we already have. One more puppy would be one more animal to save from the fire. And, being a puppy, it probably started the fire in the first place.

I thought about just how far I would go to rescue those pets. If I died trying to save the cat that keeps me awake at night with its snoring, I would feel pretty silly. Lying there, I thought about just how fat that snoring cat is. And then I thought that, if the fire were small enough, we could probably use the fat snoring cat like a blanket to smother the flames. It was late; don't tell my wife.

I thought about what else we would try to save from the flames. The traditional photo albums? Or the non-traditional record albums. Hey, I've been carting those things around for thirty years, man! Then I thought of a better question: was there anything we would throw into the fire? Oops, there goes that sweater. It was late; don't tell my wife.

Eventually, I did fall back to sleep, but not before realizing that our smoke detector was now sitting unplugged in the bathroom. If we die in a fire tonight, I thought, and the inspectors find this, our eldest daughter will be beside herself for us being such total hypocrites.