The Wood Stove

    The following is a chapter from my current book in progress, Peace Through the Echoes.

    “Silhouette of little girl…” © Nadezhda1906.

    Dear Dad,

    I still remember the feeling of those concrete floors in winter. Emerging from beneath my toasty covers, my entire body jolted from shock as my bare feet touched down. Every morning. Too stubborn to wear socks or anything else on my feet, I had to brave the chill. I knew the second I entered the living room that warmth would overcome me.

    The wood stove burned at full force, and its heavenly scent brought my spirit to life. You walked through the front door, carrying an arm full of chopped wood and stomping the snow off your boots. I smiled at the sight of you as my heart filled with joy. I watched from a safe distance while you placed a few more pieces of wood in the fire, cursing the flames nipping at your fingers. It scared me when I thought you were hurt, but you walked away like nothing happened.

    In the beginning, that stove served as a source of heat and nothing more. Now, it has become a symbol for me. It is forever etched in my memory as are so many other things. When I think of the wood stove, I think of you.

    Love,
    Irene

    ***

    January 1988

    Construction on the house came to a standstill with the harsh weather. Grandpa was right about it being a bad winter — for Oklahoma at least. The wood stove burned constantly to heat the house, thanks to record-breaking low temperatures. Of course, the concrete floors didn’t help matters either. Mom insisted I keep socks on my feet, but I ripped them off immediately after she turned her back.

    Mom yelled at me from the back door, “Get your butt in this house right now!”

    “Just a minute,” I answered.

    Our dog, Stony, had dragged his blanket out of his doghouse into the snow. Mom had just given me a bath, but Stony needed my help. I took it upon myself to see that he received a new blanket, even if that meant taking it to him barefooted in my Cinderella nightgown.

    “And just what do you think you’re doing?” Dad asked. 

    I jumped at the sound of his voice, not realizing he was outside. I expected him to be irritated at the sight of me covered in snow, mud, and dog slobber; but he wore a grin. “Stony needed a new blanket,” I said, batting my eyes. 

    “Well, it looks like you’ve got it under control, and I’m sure he appreciates it. Now, let’s get you back inside and warm you up.” 

    He hoisted me up, tossing me over his shoulder and sprinting towards the house. I screamed with excitement as he did a spin before walking through the door. Mom waited by the bathroom.

    “What are you thinking about? You’re going to get sick,” she said, frustrated. “In the tub now!”

    “Stony needed a blanket,” I said, running to the bathroom. I expected her to smack me when I passed her, so I tried my hardest to keep my butt out of reach as I squeezed between her and the bathroom door. I undressed in turbo speed and climbed into the tub before she had a chance to get me.

    She knelt beside the tub and looked at me with weary eyes but said nothing. After she scrubbed me down again, she wrapped me in a towel and led me to stand in front of the wood stove. Clean clothes were already laid out for me, socks included.

    “Not the socks, Mama. Please?” I begged.

    “You’re wearing the socks,” she replied, shoving them on my feet. “You’d better leave them on this time.”

    Dad combed my hair while Mom cleaned up the mess I made in the bathroom. They hadn’t spoken much that day, but I didn’t think anything of it. They both seemed more irritated than usual, but I didn’t think much of that either. I did find it odd that I had to go to bed before the stars came out, but I was tired anyway.

    Mom tucked me in the bed that I shared with my half-sister, Shannon, and said a prayer with me. “Shannon will be home late. Stay in bed, okay?”

    “Okay.” I nodded.

    “I love you, Sissy,” she said.

    “I love you too, Mama.”

    “It’s going to be extra cold tonight, so stay warm. Leave your socks on,” she said in a stern voice. She winked and smiled at me from the bedroom door as she switched off the light.

    When I knew the coast was clear, off went the socks.

    ***

    I awoke in the night to the sound of yelling, but I wasn’t scared. I sat up in the bed and looked around in the darkness. Confused, I knew I had to investigate; but I also had to be careful not to wake Shannon who had climbed into bed sometime during the night. She was fifteen and a force to be reckoned with. The responsibility rested on her to make sure I stayed in bed, since I had snuck out too many times to crawl into bed with Mom and Dad. If I woke her, she would be angry.

    I gently lay back down, rolling over onto my stomach. I slowly inched my legs to the edge of the mattress until I felt them emerge from beneath the covers, cool air washing over my skin. Then, I let them go limp, their weight pulling the rest of my body gradually onto the throw rug beside the bed. On my knees on the floor, I froze when I noticed Shannon moving. Once she settled, I rose and rushed towards the open door, the ice-cold concrete biting my feet as I left the rug behind.

    I made my way down the dark hall, through the living room, and came to the kitchen as I passed the wood stove. Mom and Dad were sitting at the makeshift dining table. The only light on in the house came from the light fixture on the ceiling directly above them, illuminating the scene like a stage production. Mom sat with her back towards me, but I had a clear view of Dad’s face. He leaned in with his elbows on the table, hands clasped, and jaw clenched. Anger brewed in his eyes. When he saw me, his jaw loosened, and he sat up straight. He whispered something to Mom, stood and walked outside without even looking at me. I asked Mom where he was going, but she didn’t answer.

    Soon, he came back inside, walking over to stand in front of the wood stove to warm himself. His hands were tucked in his coat pockets, his cheeks and nose red from the cold night air. He had gone outside to start his truck, and I felt my heart beating a little faster.

    I looked up at him and asked, “Where are you going, Daddy?”

    “I have to run to town,” he answered.

    “Can I go? I want to go!”

    “Not this time, Sweetheart. I’m just running to town really quick. I’ll be right back.”

    “Then how come I can’t go?”

    He pulled his hands from his pockets, squatted down in front of me, and said, “You just can’t go this time.” He wore an expression I had never seen that appeared to distort his face, making him almost unrecognizable. He hugged me tight, told me he loved me, and kissed my cheek. He rose, said goodbye to Mom, and walked out the door. It happened that fast.

    My heart pounded in my ears, and I felt the warmth on my cheeks as the tears ran down. I stood there trembling and helpless, panicked by what I had witnessed. Mom came out of the kitchen then, tears running down her face too.

    “Where’s he going, Mama?” I asked.

    “I want you to go watch out the window, Sis. Watch him leave.” That was all she said.

    I ran and jumped on the couch that sat beneath the window, hoping I hadn’t missed him drive away. I heard his truck engine rev and gravel fly when he peeled out. Parting the slits in the mini blind with my tiny fingers, I peered out into the darkness. As I watched his taillights reach the crest of that steep hill and fade into the ocean of trees, I somehow knew he wasn’t coming back.

    Copyright © 2023-2024 Irene Bratton

    Back to Creative Nonfiction

    fb-share-icon
    0
    Facebook
    LinkedIn