Saturday 24 June 2017

'How to Keep Warm in the Winter' by Jan Kaneen

1) Chop kindling by splitting wood along natural grain into small, regular pieces. A little axe with a string-wound handle's best. Doug customised mine donkey's years ago for a firmer grip. Place kindling in wicker basket on top of big logs. 2) Blow fingers warm watching powdery breath billow into pale, winter twilight. Wonder when hands became so old and dry, like sparrow claws. Carry basket down garden as day fades. 3) Watch brand new, hot-pink trainers crunch like apples over frosty grass. Laugh out loud thinking how George must've chuckled when he bought them, imagining his mother doing this very task, practically but improbably shod. Go inside. 4) Lay basket beside old iron stove in inglenook already prepped, i.e. riddled empty of yesterday's ash, redbrick tiles swept clean, coal bucket full. Make sure fire-window is properly clean, so flames will warm whitewashed cottage with buttery flickers. 5) Make newspaper firelighters: roll sheets tightly lengthways into tight tubes bend in middle so right-angled criss-cross over and over, until concertinaed tuck in ends Lay in grate. Ten should do. Put kindling on top, then two big logs on top of that. Open flue for maximum draw, and light left right and centre, for even burn. Close fire-door. 6) Watch fledgling flames start quiet and dark, until circulating air draws them up. When the kindling catches, then the big wood and its burning fierce and yellow in roaring spikes, add coal. Crow black smoke will swirl upwards pulling gentler flames through, in rich coppers and liquid golds. Watch them a while. When coal is caught, close flue to slow draw. A well-managed bucket of coal will keep the room golden past midnight. 7) Settle back into old Parker Knoll and release ghosts from photographs on dark oak sideboard. Watch Georgy walk past, seven again on his was to smoke-post his Santa letter through the fire-door, burning it all the way to the North Pole. 8) Smile as Doug steps out of 1974, wearing those awful denim flares he had on the day of the longest power cut, when you'd cooked stew by fire and candlelight and taught Georgy how to play cribbage. You'd played for hours, and at bedtime, Georgy had asked if you could have another power cut tomorrow because you'd all had such fun. Let memories fade back into yesteryear. 9) Focus on newest photo. George in New York. Suited and sophisticated, older now than you were the winter Doug died. Think about Christmas when he'll visit next. Not long now. 10) After supper, flue fire right down and watch sunset embers fade to grey, knowing that by morning, they'll all be cold cinders and that everything will need doing again. 11) Smile. If there's one thing life should've taught you by now it's that making light and warmth is nearly always worth it, even if it does end in ashes. 12) Go to bed, holding onto as much of the warmth and light as you can. First appeared in Halo – Illuminating Fiction by women, Issue two

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