Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999
November 30th, 2008

For the most part, I usually do one of two things on Thanksfornothing.

I either a) wind up cooking a meal for people who do celebrate the holiday but who are, for any number of reasons, sans a place to go and sad about it , for I cannot stand to see people I like both sad and hungry, or b) get to spend the whole day by myself, enjoying the relative quiet that happens when a great many people are very busy doing something that has nothing at all to do with sex.

I like the latter best, and was very much looking forward to having a quiet day this year.

I did a bit of work that morning, and had my living room floor spread with OB/GYN texts for some extended research I was doing so we have some better material on yeast infections.  It was a bit chilly, so I started a fire.  At a certain point, it started to die down a little, so I opened a pack of wood from the front porch.  It was pretty moldy, but I didn’t think anything of it, save that it may well not catch.

However, within just a couple of minutes it did catch. Well.  A bit too well.  As I stood in front of the wood stove, I noticed that, in fact, what had minutes before been a slacker of a fire seemed to have become quite the overachiever.  The flames were going a bit higher in the back of the stove than they ever had, and then I heard a strange sound, something which sounded a bit like some kind of something had fallen in the exhaust pipe.

Then the flames got big.  Very big.  I went from wondering if maybe this wasn’t a little weird, wasn’t a bit larger of a fire than was such a good idea to knowing, for certain, things were very much not okay.  The exhaust pipe started to glow red, and little sparks could be seen at some points.  Then the fire in the stove started licking out of the stove altogether.  Shortly thereafter, the iron grate that sits under the exhaust pipe fell into the fire, sending out another whoosh of flames.  My dog — smart little thing that she is — ran out of the room and vanished, clearly considering it was every pug for herself.

My first thought was to grab the ceramic garden gnome on the stove — Save the gnome! – which had been sitting there since Mark got it for me, as I had not yet decided where it should go in the garden. Then I pulled the top log off the pile: that didn’t seem to help.  Then I began running back and forth between the kitchen and the living room hurling pitchers of water into the stove, since (something I have voiced concern with for some time) we are sans fire extinguisher.

In the midest of all this, there was a knock on my door, and I ran to it, threw it open, and probably scared the bejeezus out of the neighbor as I stood, breathless in blue zebra pajamas, face half full of soot with a pitcher in my shaking hand. He casually — as if I were not in the midst of fighting for my life — asked if everything was okay, as their apartment next door was a bit smoky from our chimney.  As, “I am in the middle of trying to keep the house from burning down right now, lovely to see you, but could you please come back later?” did not seem the right thing to say, and as I am terrible with other people in the midst of a crisis, and my brain was a bit addled, I said something about a log just sparking (what that meant, I do not know) and it made a hotter fire than I expected but I’vequitegotithandledrightnowthanksforaskingbutIreallyHAVEtofuckinggonowBYE.

And I think I basically then slammed the door in his face.  This from the woman who complains that Seattle sucks for having any kind of relationship with one’s neighbors.

I got back to my water hurling, and finally got the damn thing to go out.  Then I resumed breathing for the first time in a good ten minutes.

Then I sat in front of the stove trembling and covered in cold sweat for something close to two hours, willing my heart rate to go down, enjoying some lovely post-adrenaline nausea, and feeling generally betrayed that fire, so often my BFF, had not only decided it didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, but had apparently also determined that my number was up and it was time for me to die.

When my knees finally stopped knocking, I spent another hour or two walking around upstairs obsessively, sniffing the floors, the closets, the walls, because it occurred to me that I did not know the exact path of the exhaust pipe from stove to chimney, and there may well be a fire still somewhere in it that would burn the house down.  It’s taken me until today, to be honest, to feel pretty certain there is not some sneaky little fire brewing somewhere in the innards of the house that’s going to burn us all to a crisp in our sleep.

Mark was back with his ex-roomies in south Seattle that day eating dead things, but I resisted the very strong urge to call him.  For one, I don’t know what on earth he could have done from 45 minutes away.  But more than that, I had this flashback to the time a few years ago when I was here visiting, when he was making his second short film, and when I got the migraine that wound up literally freezing my body up to the point that I had to call him in the midst of movie-making to let him know I had something of a concern about…well, part of my body seeming to be paralyzed.

So, I then had this extended solitary sob session about how I couldn’t call Mark and ruin his day, or give him the impression that if he went somewhere out of reach all hell would break loose.  Silly, really, since he’s been quite out of reach many times without incident, but welcome to my dysfunction.  Suffice it to say, we had a very interesting, “Hi, honey, so how was your day?” conversation when he got home that evening, save that we mostly had to have it in the morning because I wasn’t yet ready to relive the events of the day at that point.  It says an awful lot about our relationship that I can say something like, “I think I almost burnt the house down, but can we talk about that in the morning?” and get an easy nod.

After I finally told him my tale of woe the next day, he went out and bought me Wall-e (which I consider the film Pixar surely made just for me, since no one loves an apocalypse with a gender-neutral romance as much as I).  The boy’s the bee’s knees, I tell you.

So, the wood stove is currently closed for business.  I solemnly shut the doors Thursday, and I have no idea when I will open them again. We’re going to get a chimney-sweep out here, but even after that, I’m not sure how comfy I’ll be with a fire in here without not only the much-needed fire extinguisher, but perhaps also a flame-retardant suit to wear, as well.

I’m off a bit later today to another homeless youth drop-on center, to see about adding them to my outreach roster.  The beginning of the week is going to be business as usual (save my morning fires, sigh), Thursday I go to the clinic in the morning, and then within a few hours, will high-tail it to the airport for a visit back home to Chicago, as well as to see my sister in Indiana.  I’ll be with my mother and sister for the first few days, then have a couple of days to spend in-city to see my Dad, my friend Erika, maybe a couple other folks, and a possible meeting with someone I’ve been sorting through some old stuff with and forging a relationship anew (yes, I’m being obtuse).

The fact that I expect to freeze to death, not having gone back to Midwest during the winter months since I moved here, is something I’m trying to keep from having ruin my trip. I pity the poor soul who kindly suggests making a fire to help warm me up.

(Oddly enough, the fourth fire of the year in my father’s SRO happened not the day before, on the floor right beneath his room.  He told me this the next day on the phone and I immediately thanked myself for deciding it was best not to tell him about my own little flaming adventure.  He, no doubt, would have considered it prophetic as he does nearly anything anymore.  Hell, maybe he would have been right this time.)

5 comments so far

  1. Michael Says:

    Don’t give up on the wood stove, Heather. Chimney fires happen from time to time. Creosote builds up and you’ve got to burn it out eventually. You should definitely DEFINITELY have a fire extinguisher at hand, though.

  2. Michael Says:

    There’s a good blog post about chimney fires here.

    http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2008/11/foolproof.html

  3. Peter Says:

    Speaking from a bit of experience - a housefire put us out of the house for over a month last year and we’re still finding things to replace or clean - I wish you well.

    I found that some of the residue of the adrenaline and the Kübler-Ross stages of loss will stick in one’s soul like the creosote in the chimney, and will require level headed cleansing from time to time.

    We’re neighbors - call if you need something and your guy ain’t around.

  4. Christopher Says:

    YIKES! yeah, on the exstingusher, tho.

    Remembering one of your Mpls Thanksfornothings, fondly, too.

  5. Norman Dungan Says:

    This was a replacement for the identical radiator which I had for at least 15 years. We installed it originally when we did a bathroom remodel (you need to tear into the wall). I like it because it is not in the midpoint of the room and it kicks out the right amount of heat for my So. Calif climate. Replacement was a breeze.

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