Allison doesn’t like the fireplace.
It’s too big for their livingroom, she thinks. For God’s sake, she’s told Charlie, we live in a one storey house; we don’t need a six foot fire place. But he gets so cold in the winter, ever since the shelter belt burnt down when the riots spread out from town. . Sometimes the wind beats so bad on the little house that the windows shake and shingles blow off. Sometimes the house rattles so badly Allison can’t hear herself think.
So Allison tends the fire place while Charlie tends the fields. Sometimes she catches herself staring into it, thinking about funeral pyres and how long it takes gold to melt.
Allison doesn’t mind the fire place, but she absolutely hates the logs.
Charlie says that he buys them special, to make the fire last longer. It doesn’t, but Charlie still acts like the fire is his baby and Allison won’t change that. She can’t give him a baby, not since the first nuclear winter, and Charlie just smiles so much when he watches the flames.
It isn’t so much their ineffectiveness that bothers Allison. It’s the smell. They smell like the barn fire of ’02, before the bombs dropped, and Allison asks Charlie if there’s cow fat in them. Charlie grins and says not quite, shuffling the embers before going back to his chair.
Allison finds bones in the ashes sometimes.
Sometimes, after church, Allison thinks about how the ancient Jewish people, the founders of their faith, used to offer God burnt sacrifices. They offered cows, goats, lambs, she remembers hearing. Did God think Christians greedy, for keeping their meat to themselves? Mother Thea seems to think so. She talks about the importance of “sacrifice in this difficult time” every Sunday. Sacrificing food for your neighbour, sacrificing electricity to keep the generators running for emergencies, sacrificing pleasure. It never seems to end.
She remembers that God offered his own son for sacrifice and it makes her feel a little better about what Charlie is doing. At least it isn’t their kin.
She catches him late on a windy night. She barely heard the fire screen open, but she hears muffled groans and wonders if Charlie’s hurt himself in the field again.
She goes out into the hallway, and then she can really smell it. She creeps into the living room, silent as snowfall, and sees Charlie pulling a woman—no, girl, into the kitchen by her leg. She looks like she can’t be more than 110 soaking wet, perhaps 115 with all of her ridiculous jewellery, but Charlie can barely move her. Allison wonders when Charlie became so weak.
Charlie lays the girl on the table. Her head rolls from side to side. Allison ducks behind the corner of the wall. Charlie opens the bottom drawer of the cupboards and pulls out the tea lights, lighting them from the lantern on the wall. He places them around the girl, forming a square. The girl suddenly jerks and sends one by her left wrist onto the floor. Charlie swears loudly.
“There’s no time.” Charlie mutters, “there’s no time…”
Charlie opens the drawer under the sink and pulls out a knife. Allison looks away.
She holds her breath until she hears Charlie’s footsteps getting closer. She hears dripping. Charlie doesn’t notice her as he passes, too busy whispering Mother Thea’s chant; the fire came and took the day, faith in God keeps fire at bay, burn the sin upon the pyre, smoke goes up to the heavens higher. He carries the girl’s shoulder and arm, and it’s barely as long as Charlie’s own arm.
Charlie places the limb in the fire, ever burning. Allison watches the flames dance off of the woman’s silver nail polish and giant jewellery. Charlie looks at her then, and smiles.
“Don’t worry, Allison. God smiles upon us, and nothing will go to waste.”
We all have to make sacrifices, she thinks, and stands beside her husband. She tends the fire, moving the wood so that the girl’s skin coats with charcoal, adding more logs until the fat sizzles and pops.
Kelsey J. Mills is a writer, blogger and poet living in scenic Saskatchewan. Kelsey currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, with a minor in creative writing. In her spare time she bakes, reads, plays DDR and torments her boyfriend and their pets. http://kelseyjaymills.com/