by Brian Lance
Gramp left at dawn. Side job. I found his note under the Coco Puffs box. Temp’s dropping today. Light the stove early. Right after church. Move Gram’s new Jesus so the heat doesn’t warp the frame. Think you can handle that? I’d never lit the stove. I called Rene next door. She had the same cast-iron potbelly. And with her father often gone, she’d lit plenty of fires.
Rene told me to pack the stove with newspaper and pine shards from a wainscoting job my grandfather did. She handed me a long wooden match.
‘Strike it here,’ she said, pointing to the bottom of the match tube. ‘Good. Now get it in there before it dies out.’
Flames leapt from the paper to the pine and then flapped out the stove. Smoke stung our eyes, squeezed tears from them. I went to slam the hatch.
‘No!’ Rene grabbed my wrist. ‘Let it burn.’
We watched the stove. The sudden heat from Rene’s fingers between mine twisted something in my chest. When the first flames settled, we fed the stove damp poplar until dusk.
‘Who painted that one?’ Rene pointed at the watercolor Jesus touching the Sacred Heart above the hearth.
My stomach gurgled. How could I forget?
‘Gram,’ I said.
Gramp’s boots clunked outside. His tool bag thumped. I swung the door open, sweating under the gaze of my grandmother’s Jesus.
‘Smoky in here,’ he said. His nose twitched like a dog’s. He headed toward the bathroom. ‘Well, glad to see you figured it out. Fifteen and never lit a….’ He froze. A strip of red satin peaked from between the couch cushions. He squinted at the glow under the bathroom door. A shadow moved in the beam. Gramp smirked.
– Brian Lance is an MFA in Writing student at Western Connecticut State University. He earned a bachelor’s of science in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. And he served nine years in the U.S. Navy. He was selected to attend the Yale Writer’s Conference in June. He lives in Connecticut.