May 19, 2022

Il Vecchio Camino

by Foster Trecost

I read the lease like I’d read most leases, giving each line a fair start, but finishing only a few. After the first page I was eager to sign so I quickly flipped to the second, but in place of continued fine print, my eyes locked onto letters so bold they mimicked a thicket, demanding slow and careful steps:

USE OF THE FIREPLACE IS FORBIDDEN

It went on to state that any object, ignited or otherwise, placed in the cavity would result in immediate eviction. The passage, penned in icy absence of detail, presented an unwelcomed exercise in restraint. Since forced discipline had never been a strongpoint, I sought to clarify:  Newspapers? Books? Candles? Nothing. Nothing was allowed. The fireplace hung like forbidden fruit. Still, I signed the lease.

It wasn’t much to look at. Days of luster, if such days ever existed, elapsed long ago. Where the mantle used to be, a strip of unpainted brick sketched a two-dimensioned mantle shape. Neglect had reduced it to little more than a square hole in the wall. I wondered when it housed its last fire, and hoped it was a fire worth remembering.

I suppose summer months took the longest, waiting for fall, then the coveted winter, nights when hungry tongues reduced wood to hot coals and kept the room cozy. Maybe kids stabbed marshmallows with sticks. Or lovers snugged on the hearth. I invented memories for nearly half a year until a late fall evening allowed crisp air to creep inside, leaving a chill best combatted with a rolling blaze. But that wasn’t an option.

Or was it?

Even If I’d gone no further, I broke lease when I prepared the hearth with kindling and wood, but further I went. I tucked crumpled paper into crevices, then, like a bedridden patient who longed to run, I set the fireplace free. It burned with a gratuitous glow, stealing chill with the skill of a seasoned thief. When I smiled, it seemed to smile back. I had no way of knowing what was about to happen, but I think the fireplace knew. After the lingering firemen had left, it stood tall, the last man standing.

The next morning I went back to where the house had been. Sunshine would’ve been misplaced, like a light left burning in an empty building. A breeze blew ash across the slab, chased leaves around the lawn. I walked to the fireplace. “Now that,” I said, “was fire worth remembering.” If it could talk, I’d like to think he thought so, too. I drove away wondering, among other things, what to tell my landlord.