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In Case of an Emergency

Omni House Parker Hotel. Boston. Monday. 9:25 a.m. The day begins with coffee and sweet rolls in the room. Leisurely, my college girlfriend, Alicia, and I brush our teeth, put on shoes, and listen for four girlfriends to knock on our door. Today is the first day to sightsee and celebrate our birthdays, our friendships that began in 1965 when we were Tennessee Tech freshman.

June and Kathy knock. We hug and greet. A loud voice thru the hotel intercom interrupts our conversation. Something like, “The Parker House uses voice messages to notify guests of emergencies. We are concerned for your safety. In case of an emergency, you will be given directions after this message.” The message repeats.

June, a retired school principal, says, “Well, that brings back memories of fire drills at…” The intercom breaks in. “Evacuate the hotel immediately. Go to the nearest stairway and down the steps.” June opens our room door. The message repeats. I throw my iPhone into my purse. Alicia says, “You go on. I’m just going to put a coat of clear polish on my nails.” The message repeats.

“No, you’re not. Grab your purse. We’re going,” I say. Alicia follows June and Kathy to the hallway. There is no sign of fire or smoke. As I follow my friends, the evacuation announcement continues. I pray our other two friends are safe.

Near the stairwell, a room door opens. A woman holds a baby in arms. Two young children stand beside her. My grandmother instincts kick in. I take one step toward them and note fright on the toddler girl’s face. No, this child doesn’t need a stranger to add to her fear.

My friends and I fall into the single file line down the steps from the fifth floor. I grip the rail with one hand and my purse with the other. No one says a word. I look down, planting my feet on the steps. Stay calm; don’t be scared I say silently. Fourth floor. No one hurries. Mechanical walking. Shuffling of feet. No talking.

My hair covers my eyes. If I fall, people will stumble. “I have to stop to get my hair out of my eyes,” I say. An unknown voice replies, “Thanks for the warning.”

I tuck my hair behind my ears. Sling my purse onto my shoulder. One more flight.

Hotel employees hold the lobby doors open and stand to form a walkway to guide us outside. Police officers and firefighters stand in the lobby. No one speaks. My friends and I find a place on the sidewalk to stand. A phone call confirms our other two friends are outside and walking toward us.

Two fire trucks are parked in the street. Firefighters sit in the cab. The hotel intercom blasts, “All clear. Have a good day. Thank you for your cooperation.” My friends and I hug each other.

Kathy says what each of us thinks. All clear. The best words of the day. Another reason to celebrate.

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