The Slow-Cooked Sentence


Rachael Conlin Levy
“Ignition 2” courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar.

The flue was open, the newspaper crumpled, the firewood angled just so, but there was no match. Not one. I rummaged through the junk drawer, rifled through the jar of coins and rubber bands, peered into the bottom of the bag of charcoal. No match.

“What the hell,” I mumbled under my breath.

I twisted a piece of newspaper into a small stick, laid it on the electric stove and waited as it smoldered, filled the room with smoke, then finally burst into flame. Carrying the burning paper, I quickly walked from the kitchen to the fireplace and lit the kindling. The kids ran around opening windows to let the smoke escape into the cold winter night, giggling with shock and delight.

“Don’t ever, ever, under any circumstances, do what I just did,” I told them as we snuggled around the crackling fire and toasted marshmallows.

All that’s left of that night is the lingering smell of a campfire in our living room and some ashes, but my mind has stayed clouded and smokey. How, I asked my husband, do I air out my brain after a month crammed with parties and packages and (at the tail-end) puking? How do I spark smoldering ideas? As usual, his response came as an emailed link to a great little video on ideas and a warning that it was “nothing the kids should watch.”

So I watched it one night and it worked. Thinking about smoking ideas like brain crack reminded me of my long winter in Moscow, Idaho in 1993. I was working for the Daily News, living in a converted chicken coop and playing with fire. On most Friday nights you’d find me sitting on a bar stool in John’s Alley, flirting with the Nez Perce bartender and tucking away Heinekens in honor of my long-distance and half-Dutch boyfriend (who may as well have been half a world instead of half a state away).

I closed the bar with the bartender one night and brought him home to my coop. He leaned against the wall and I sat on top of my furnace and we talked until he leaned down and kissed me. As our mouths touched and my fingers reached up into his hair I wondered and weighed the moment: Was this worth losing what I loved? His mouth opened and he tasted of ashes and smoke, of passions burning and dying. I pulled away and sent him home.

Then I brushed my teeth.

Which got me thinking about another fire, older and fainter, that burned in our trailer’s potbelly stove when I was a girl. My dad made the hottest, most raging fires in that stove hoping, perhaps, that waves of heat would lap the edges of the room I shared with my two sisters. But our bedroom never thawed though the stove’s metal glowed red as an ember.

So there I was at the frozen end of the trailer, shivering as I slipped into my flannel nightgown, teeth chattering as I brushed them. Then I’d sprint down the hall to the potbelly stove. I’d scooch as close to that glowing wall as I could and let the heat burn into my skin. Still cold, I’d sandwich myself in heat by inching my body between burning stove and radiating wall until my mom would tell me to step back because my nightgown was smoking.

“Don’t do that,” she told me.

But later I noticed that her own nightgown was toasted brown.

One response to “Smoking”

  1. mochiv says:

    awwww- it’s nice to have you back 🙂

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