by JIM KNIPFEL
February 2, 2020
A Whiff of Cold Gas
It was three-thirty on a Sunday afternoon, and the latest goddamn open house had ended about an hour earlier. The growing piles of boxes around the apartment were becoming more obtrusive and depressing every day, though part of me was still denying we’d really ever have to move.
I was tying up the trash under the sink to haul it downstairs before dragging the garbage cans out to the curb when there was a light knock on the door. I froze for an instant. If that was the real estate fucker again with another latecomer who wanted to see the house, I was going to push him down the stairs. He’d shown up with latecomers the previous weekend. “Yeah?” I called from the kitchen.
“It’s Laurie from the first floor,” a muffled voice called back.
“Oh,” I said. “Okay. You scared the shit out of me.” Apart from the real estate fucker, no one ever knocked on my door. “Be right there.” I stood and, carrying the bag of trash with me, headed down the hall and unlocked the door.
I knew pretty much nothing about Laurie. She was in her late twenties, had moved up to Brooklyn from Florida about a year ago, planned to return to Florida when she moved out in a couple of weeks, and had a cat. That was pretty much it. We’d never shared more than a few brief sentences as we passed on the stoop. I had no idea what she did, though I sometimes ran into her on her way to work at five in the morning. She kept to herself when she was home, and I had no reason to pry. Her privacy was hers, and I respected that.
“I just wanted to let you know, she said when I opened the door, “that I smelled gas in my kitchen, so I called the gas company. Have you smelled anything?”
“No,” I told her. “But the windows have been open because a couple of the cats went to town in the litter box.”
I then went on to explain that we’d smelled gas on the first floor and in the basement off and on over the years. It got so strong sometimes I got woozy and nauseous when I went downstairs to do the laundry. But it always went away after a couple of hours, and we forgot about it.
“One time about a year ago,” I went on, “the kids in the basement called the landlord about it. I guess it was getting pretty bad in their place, but . . . ” I shrugged. “You know Milo. As usual he never responded.”
“The people at the gas company said someone should be out within half an hour. They didn’t tell me not to light matches or anything like that, but they did tell me the people in the building should evacuate until they can check it out.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. I had no fucking plans to evacuate anything. “Thanks very much for telling me. I appreciate that. By the way, does your place have a carbon monoxide detector?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “But I’m not sure. Nothing down there works.”
“Right,” I agreed. “That’s about Milo’s speed. A long time back now a repairman warned him the clogged chimney from the furnace made carbon monoxide a real risk, but it would’ve cost Milo a few bucks to do anything about it, so he didn’t. Morgan put two detectors up in our place when we moved in, So if they ever go off, we’ll be sure and let you know.”
She thanked me for that, and we agreed that in a place like this, neighbors have to watch out for one another.
“I’ll let you know what the guy from the gas company says. Hopefully it’ll be an all clear.”
I thanked her again, she returned to her apartment, I took the trash out, dragged the cans to the curb, then paused on the top step. No, I wasn’t evacuating anything, I thought, and lit a cigarette, hoping for the best. Nothing happened.
All the while I was talking to Laurie, a guttural voice was screaming in the back of my skull. Of course with her being the young, naive and pleasant type, there was no way I could tell her what I was really thinking beneath the neighborly chit-chat.
“You fucking stupid bitch!” The voice I knew all too well howled. “Why in the fuck did you call the goddamn gas company? For years now I’d been pining for carbon monoxide poisoning, and now more than ever. So fucking easy, just drift away for good in your sleep. Carbon monoxide detectors my hairy ass! That hadn’t happened yet, obviously, but hey, one errant unconscious strike of a match and we could all be done with it in a flash, a deafening whumpf, and the sound of crumbling masonry. What could be better? Not only would we die at home without ever having to move to some cramped Bensonhurst shithole—we’d have the last laugh on that fucking asshole of a landlord. Just try to sell a pile of smoldering rubble for one-point-three million, you dickwhack!”
But again, way things have been going these past months, I wasn’t all that surprised when the guy from the gas company found the leak in the basement, fixed it, and left. Fucking typical.
On the bright side, however, two days later I could smell gas in the laundry room again. I didn’t bother mentioning it to anyone.
You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:
With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.