Keep The Home Fires Burn­ing

A seem­ingly sim­ple task proves chal­leng­ing in this charm­ing short story by Kitty-Ly­dia Dye.

The People's Friend Special - - NATURE -

We are fi­nally liv­ing our dream in the coun­try. Now all I need to do is fig­ure out how to heat our cot­tage . . .

RIGHT, I’m off.” I open one eye. Even at six a.m., the sight of Luke in a suit is so adorable I put out both arms for a hug. He sinks on to the side of the bed and wraps his arms around me.

“You sure you’ll be OK?” he asks. “Get­ting the fire go­ing and ev­ery­thing?”

“Fine.” Re­luc­tantly, I let go. “I told you: Celia Con­greve’s Fire­wood Poem. With that, I have it sussed.”

Luke kisses my fore­head; I get a waft of af­ter­shave.

“Only you could find a how-to poem about light­ing a fire. I wish we’d tried it over the week­end, though.”

“I know, but there was too much to do after mov­ing in.” I flash him a se­duc­tive look. “And we de­served our week­end off.” He grins. “See you Thurs­day.” “See you.” I snug­gle un­der the du­vet to dream of cosy fires and toast­ing forks for two.

****

I wake to sun­shine sparkling on sil­ver cob­webs out­side our bed­room win­dow. I bound out of bed to greet the day.

“Oh, Percy!” I hug our tabby, who is perched on the win­dow-sill. “It’s go­ing to be great liv­ing in the coun­try.”

Percy blinks re­proach­ful eyes. I know he’s des­per­ate to get out in that gar­den, but it’s too soon. I don’t think he’d bolt back to our old apart­ment – it’s too far, and be­sides, he’s far too lazy – but I’m not tak­ing any chances.

“I’ll see if they’ve got some cat­nip in the vil­lage shop.” I kiss his head. “They seem to sell ev­ery­thing else.”

I’ve al­ready popped in for some milk and a packet of gin­ger nuts.

****

“I’m on a mis­sion for beech logs,” I say to the post­mistress, who says I must call her Vera.

She nods, un­der­stand­ing. She is an­gu­lar, as el­e­gant as He­len Mir­ren, but the West Coun­try ac­cent makes her sound moth­erly.

“I’ve got some nice log nets over there. Make a grand fire, they will.”

“Are they – um – sea­soned?” I try not to sound like the townie I am.

“Of course.” Vera grins. “‘Beech fires are bright and clear, if the logs are kept a year’.”

“Celia Con­greve’s Fire­wood Poem!” I laugh in de­light.

So does she.

“Tells you all you need to know, that does.”

Full of con­fi­dence, I go home and set to work.

It’s a dis­as­ter. In­stead of burn­ing brightly, the logs sim­ply char and smoke.

I use a whole box of matches, and have to open the win­dows to clear the acrid stench. It makes the house even colder.

I throw on an ex­tra sweater, as Percy is still sulk­ing and won’t give me a cud­dle.

He’s bur­rowed un­der the du­vet on our bed in any case. A sen­si­ble cat.

“How’s the fire-rais­ing?” Luke asks, on the phone from Lon­don.

“Fine.”

It’s a good job the sig­nal is dodgy, so he can’t hear my teeth chat­ter­ing.

****

I’m too ashamed to re­turn to Vera, so I stop by the garage to stock up on birch wood.

Ac­cord­ing to the poem, they “burn too fast”.

Frankly I don’t care; if they burn at all it’ll be a bonus.

“You need any kin­dling?” the woman be­hind the counter asks.

“I . . . err . . . kin­dling?” “You know, to get it go­ing?”

She shoots me a look and nods to­wards bags of lit­tle sticks.

“That’s right. They’ll crackle cham­pion on your news­pa­per, they will.”

She nods en­cour­ag­ingly. News­pa­per? Kin­dling? I thought log burn­ers burned logs, right?

I know all you sea­soned fire-rais­ers out there will be laugh­ing. But I’m a city girl, OK?

The near­est I’ve ever been to a real fire is the pic­tures in coun­try life­style mag­a­zines, or in a pub where some­one else has oblig­ingly lit it for me.

But . . . how hard could it be?

I buy ev­ery­thing, feel­ing guilty that the

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