His first thought: the rags are on fire, call 9-1-1. But on sitting up, he saw the gas can innocuously on the floor, cold and inactive, just as he left it. He quickly looked around. Nothing seemed amiss. But then there was screaming, and a few minutes later, the distant wail of fire trucks.
Grunstein hurried out of his apartment without a coat. It had snowed overnight, and his soft dress shoes were quickly cold and soaked. A dozen people in various states of undress stood outside on the sidewalk of the building next to Grunstein’s -- another Fishbein property. On the top floor, smoke poured out three windows. Grunstein recognized a young college woman who sometimes attended High Holidays at his synagogue when she couldn’t return to her parents’ house in New Jersey. Mary Greenblatt -- another Jew who could act in a passion play.
“What happened, Mary?” Grunstein asked. Mary was in plaid pajamas and a fuzzy pink robe.
“A gas fire, Mr. Grunstein. Some boys in 5F lit a match to light a cigarette even though they smelled gas, and the place went up with a boom. They are lucky they’re alive.” She pointed to two young men, shivering beneath towels in underwear and t- shirts. Grunstein looked up: flames began to lick out the windows. Then the fire trucks arrived, and policemen ushered the crowd from the front of the building.
Grunstein limped home. He felt he might vomit. A substance like bile clung to his upper pallet, making it difficult for him to open his mouth. His hands shook more violently than usual, and he had difficulty aiming the gas can at the large aperture of the open toilet. It took three attempts. He finally emptied the can, flushed the toilet, closed the lid, and sat heavily upon it. His hands reeked of gas, but he pressed them over his face anyway, attempting to conceal himself from Ruth. She had saved him. Saved him once again from his impulses. His love for and fear of his first wife rested ball in socket, one almost indistinguishable from the other. Grunstein pleaded with God not to allow him to live forever in an endless round of sin and redemption.