On October 28 a small grease fire in my kitchen created a major shift in my life. No one was hurt and the damage seemed minimal. But for several weeks I have been out of my house while all of my belongings, from underwear to serving dishes, from facecloths to framed pictures, and from cabinet doors to teaspoons have been cleaned, wrapped and placed in a steel container on my driveway. The repair and paint crew are scheduled to arrive on Monday, so within a couple of weeks I should be able to go home.
For now, I am safe and staying with my beloved.
The insurance company has been forthcoming and surprisingly caring.
My house is made of wood. A few more untended minutes and all would have been lost. Just as a couple of years ago when my son rolled the car, even though he came out unscathed, I shook for weeks afterward.
How near we all are to that edge. How unsafe we truly are.
I also consider the fact that my most recent novel has at its base the loss of the childhood home through fire. At one time the working title was Home Fires, but it looked like Home Fries and sounded like Little House on the Prairie, so it’s now, Three Degrees of Surrender.
Here is what I wrote a few days after the fire:
The kitchen smells of lungs collapsed from airborne black plastic sucked in like dust. Smoke exits through open windows into the night where a wet moon hangs. Wood cabinets are black to the ceiling and the walls have sagged into a watery wave.
The refrigerator, unanchored from its unreliable outlet, hums in the dining room.
The man who loves to cook with bacon fat scrunches a blackened cloth in one hand, his face smeared and shining with sweat. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I got distracted.”
The stove’s dials and knobs wilt and blur.
The cat drops a mouse at my feet, and then scoops it with one paw so that the small creature flips and lands on its side with a soft thud. Not much fun anymore, that mouse.
I’m scanning the shelves, scanning blackened boxes of Bengal Spice, Egyptian Licorice, Yogi and Throat Coat teas, misshapen jars of cumin, cinnamon, coriander and chili flakes. What was pepper what was salt. Pieces of lightbulb scattered like eggshell. And the windows open to the indifferent night.
I open my mouth. I close my eyes.
Outside, I hear the soft patter of rain on fallen leaves. The river receives all of this and continues to flow, the frogs burrowed deep in its banks, the beaver snug under its sturdy pile of chewed wood. My neighbour dynamites beaver dams to keep the water flowing.
The man who loves to cook with bacon fat bends over a sink full of soap suds, scrubbing hard at pans slick with black.
The cat slips through its private door out into the cool wet night.