He carried in the grocery bags, almost dancing in anticipation of the buffalo burgers he’d just purchased.  “Just don’t be cooking that stuff in my good cast-iron pans,” I said.  “The fat will stay in them.”

He rolled his eyes.  “I’m not going to cook flesh in your kitchen.  I said I wouldn’t and I won’t.  I bought a little gas grill.”  He went back out to his car and returned triumphantly carrrying a large box.
“You’re going to grill out on the sidewalk?” I asked.

“It’s a little one.  I can grill out on the balcony,” he replied, dumping the parts out on the carpet and beginning to sort them into little piles.  I snatched up the instructions and began reading the warnings.

” ‘This grill is for outdoor use only and shall not be used in a building, garage, or any other enclosed area.

” ‘This grill is not a tabletop unit.  Do not use on any type of tabletop surface.

” ‘Do NOT operate, light, or use this appliance within eight feet of walls, structures or buildings.’  You’re going to have to take this downstairs and make your burgers out there,” I said.

“Will you frickin’ relax?  I am not making doughnuts,” he pointed out, referring to an incident that took place when I was 14, in which I’d set first a pot of oil, then kitchen curtains, and eventually an entire kitchen on fire.  I considered whether that experience had made me gun-shy or prudent and decided on the latter.

“The directions SAY ‘do not.’  If you set this place on fire, our landlady is going to be totally pissed.  I’m going to have to sit here and watch the thing with a fire extinguisher ready.”

“For heaven’s sakes,” he said.  “I’m not even going to cook while you’re here, so you don’t have to smell the meat.”

“Right,” I shot back.  “I’m going to go out and have a marvelous time wondering whether the grill has spontaneously combusted on our balcony.  Good.”

He handed me the car key and patted my shoulder infuriatingly.  “You go out and have fun with Lisa,” he said.  “It will be just fine.”

When I came home four hours later, the last fire truck was just leaving.  “Holy crap,” I said.

The balcony had indeed caught on fire.  The heat from the grill was intense enough that in that little space, the siding had ignited and flames had licked their way up the wall and around to the neighbor’s screened-in balcony.  The two-by-fours that held up their screens had burned and collapsed outward, landing on the newly-fallen dry leaves.  The alcove around our balcony had become kiln-like and roasted the decking until it and the wrought-iron table and chairs crashed down onto the first-floor patio below.  Fortunately, our downstairs neighbor was indoors at the time, and rushed out her front door.  She was standing in a little cluster with some of the other residents of the development, some of whom were glaring over at him.  Her yappy little ankle-biting dog was nowhere to be seen.

“Muffin didn’t know what was coming,” she told me, patting my shoulder as I shakily apologized for what was so clearly our fault.  “She didn’t suffer at all.”

He caught my eye with a twinkle in his, and I had to bite my tongue not to laugh.


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