Fire Watch

I had two children, a daughter and a son.  We were living in a small house out in the woods, more of a shack really, with only a front room and a back bedroom and a rough kitchen.  It was the middle of winter.  The trees were bare and there were deep snowdrifts on the ground outside.  There was a desk against the wall in the front room and there was a glowing fire burning on the hardwood floor under the desk.  The couches in the front room had been pushed from their normal places and into a circle around the desk in order to be closer to the warmth from the fire.  The moonlight in the windows and the glow from the fire provided the only light in the room.

I was very tired and I stretched out on one of the couches under a flannel blanket.  The children were over by the desk.  The boy sat on the floor beside the fire, playing with a toy semi truck, driving it up to the edge of the fire and then driving it away, as though he were making deliveries to the fire.  The girl stood beside the fire, poking at it cautiously with a stick and trying to be careful not to let the flames catch on the hem of her nightgown.  I called the girl over.  I told her that she needed to keep an eye on the fire while I slept.  She had to make sure that it didn’t spread out of control and burn down the whole shack.  It was dangerous enough having it burn on the wood floor and under the wooden desk.

The girl seemed angry at being given the responsibility.  She stood beside the couch, pouting and fidgeting and glaring resentfully at the fire.  I reminded her that she was the oldest, that I could trust her to take care of the fire better than her brother.  I grew more and more drowsy, mumbling on and on, trying to reassure her.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open for another second.  Just as I was about to drift off completely, I realized that I hadn’t told her what to do if the fire started to spread.  I hadn’t shown her how to put it out.  But I couldn’t stay awake, and so I fell asleep, hoping she’d figure out what to do.

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4 thoughts on “Fire Watch

  1. I'm glad there's a desk in your dream, because it gives me the opportunity to tell you “congratulations” for finishing up that degree you've been working on (you mentioned it in a comment to Vincent on his blog)! What kind of degree is it?
    You drew a very horrible picture here of how difficult & dangerous it is to be poor. It's always seemed to me like nature goes out of its way to rid the world of some of its best people. In this instance it didn't matter that you were probably an honorable man working two jobs to do right by your kids, because inevitably running on no sleep deprived you of sound common sense.
    Maybe you will have a dream about returning to
    the fatal spot of the fire that burned your kids up & killed you in your sleep. It feels unresolved like it needs a part II.

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  2. I'm currently working on my associates of arts degree. I'm just finishing up my summer classes today, and I have one more semester to go. I should be done by the end of the fall. I might go on for a BA in English after that.

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  3. I feel bad now, not noticing that. Checking again I fins this in one of your latest comments:

    “after this fall and I'm done with school and not as swamped with schoolwork and other things as I am now.”

    Well done, you must have been enjoying it, to go on for a BA in English. I hope it's not a distraction to your writing though. In the back of my mind I'm seeing some celebrated writer who felt in retrospect that she (or he?) could have done better just writing. Plath? Bukowski? Hillesum? Dillard?

    Never mind that. Would this be a remote learning course or campus-based?

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