This is Not a Drill

fire alarmLast month I stayed in a hotel room the shape and colour of a TicTac and only slightly larger.

When I first walked in, sour-tongued and befuddled with jetlag, the room saluted me via the flat screen television: Greetings Citizen Shelley! In the night’s smallest hours, unable to sleep, I felt like I’d been hermetically sealed and posted to a faraway star.

The last night of my stay, I was three-quarters dressed and answering emails at a desk the size of a dinner plate, when I was jolted back to local time by the thunderous clang of the fire alarm. Citizen Shelley surprised me here. She stood calmly and reached for her foam earplugs, then her cell-phone, raincoat, and shoes. Numbed to the din, she paused to remove her passport and wallet from the safe, then locked her door behind her.

Out in the corridor, so many other docile Citizens! No one spoke. We obediently ignored the elevators. We glided to the stairs and marched robotically down them. It was as if this was a drill, as if we’d done this a hundred times, as if we’d all been summoned back to the Mothership for a battery check.

At no point was I afraid. Not once did I fear for my life, my laptop, or my possessions. A wispy anxiety in the back of my mind wondered what it would be like go through airport security, bra-less, but I’m small-breasted. I could get away with it. This, too, could be serenely survived. And indeed when we reached the ground floor, the flow of Citizens reversed itself. False alarm, one said, and we all believed him, turned around, and traipsed back to our pods.

My first-day home, in the inside-out bleariness that is jetlag in reverse, my phone pinged to remind me of my mammogram appointment. That very day. Truly, there is nothing that anyone who has lost a first-degree relative to breast cancer would want to do more on any given day of the week—but especially on the days when pecked fragile with exhaustion—than to get ones small breasts squished as flat as sand dollars in a machine that looks like part of a space-ship, pressed so slim you could slip them in the back pockets of your skinny jeans, in case of fire.

This is the space I inhabit. I don’t fear flames or bombs or terrorists. I don’t worry my craft will go down. I worry about invasions from within and whether those might cut short my stay. That’s why I fret about fitting it all in—all the things that drive me, that need doing. This is the only voyage! Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m working through my list—even as the list gets longer and more exciting. Which is a roundabout way of saying: I found an agent who wants to represent me and my novel. I know! I know. I’m still so high from it, I’m beyond the stratosphere. I’m in orbit. I’m shooting for the stars.