ALERT by Caelyn Cobb

We all regret downloading that crime reporting app. “I’ve learned that I’m always a few blocks from some guy swinging a chain,” our friend says at dinner. For us, it’s gunshots or fires. Gunshots reported, four hundred feet. One mile. Six hundred yards. People on the app give these alerts thousands of likes. That’s what you get, someone comments. “Probably just fireworks,” I say. Those distances don’t feel that close. One mile might as well be a different universe. They have a different congresswoman and everything.

When we’re getting ready for bed the app says there’s a fire at Food Universe. Their lemons are always moldy and they don’t even have goat cheese. Burn, motherfucker! the commenters cheer. A few weeks ago the worst pizzeria in the neighborhood burned down at three in the morning. That time everyone on the app was devastated. Where will I get my pizza now? Literally anywhere else, we both agreed. Now the pizzeria is almost done rebuilding. We walked by and the door was open: white tiles accented with green, all the chrome new and shining. 

“You know what my father would have called that?” you asked. I did, but I didn’t say it. Some things shouldn’t be said, even if it was someone else who said them.

A siren wails. A woman who lives across from the grocery store posts a video. We expect smoke, black and billowing, red-orange lights flashing, but it’s nothing. Y’all are fuckin dumbasses, a commenter says. Fuck you, someone else replies.  Laugh emoji. Thumbs up. Some people aren’t laughing. Some people have darker things to say. The siren is still going, farther away—who knows to where. Someone on the app will figure it out. Someone on the app is probably there already. 

The local paper tweets that a woman set herself on fire. She was trying to get bedbugs out of her car. “Can you even get bedbugs in your car?” you want to know. They could be anywhere, I remind you. When we had them in that first apartment I would see them in the hallway. If only someone would set fire to that place. Sometimes fire is the only option. Your grandma told us that’s what they did back in the forties: big bonfires of their beds and chairs and clothes, right on the sidewalk. Someone on the app is probably filming that burning car right now, getting thousands of fire emoji reactions. 366 yards away, the woman is probably already in the ambulance, a paramedic rubbing silver into her wounds, pushing medication to keep her calm.

Another siren. My phone buzzes. I turn it to silent and roll onto my side to sleep. You’re still sitting up, awake, the bright white square of your phone lighting up the hollows of your face, vigilant.


Caelyn Cobb's work has appeared in Longleaf Review, The Hunger, The Wondrous Real, and elsewhere. She lives in Queens, NY. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @caelyncobb.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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