Keep The Home Fires Burning
A seemingly simple task proves challenging in this charming short story by Kitty-Lydia Dye.
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.
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