I lived alone on an island in a Queen Ann Victorian that was always on fire. On the day I first moved in, the turret was already ablaze, puff, puff, puffing threads of dark smoke into the sky, like coded messages to a distant land. Some people might have balked at committing to such a unique fixer-upper, but they didn’t see its generous view of the bay or the way its oriel windows caught the moonlight.
My days there always began the same. I’d trek down to the beach at dawn, returning with two pails full of ocean to douse the worst of the fire. Then I’d set to work with hammer and nail mending whatever had been devoured the day before. In the evening, I’d pat my clothes and hair for hidden embers and take my dinner down by the shore, soaking my tired feet in the lapping tide. Afterward, I’d doze in a rocking chair on the wraparound porch, savoring the crash of waves on the rocks and the salty bite of the sea breeze.
Little by little though, the Sisyphean rhythm of it all exhausted me. Soot began to cake painfully beneath my nails. Phantom heat from scorched gables singed off my eyelashes. Inhaled ash wizening my voice down to a choked rasp. And I was no carpenter, no mason. The fire took what it took and some days, the best I could do was slather green paint over the char and move on. Then, one morning I awoke to flames dancing at the foot of my bed, like an eager pup ready to play. And that was enough.
Sharing my home with an open fire was one thing, it was quite another to welcome those same flames into my bedroom.
With the resolve of the brokenhearted, I collected the few trinkets I hadn’t yet sacrificed and carried them down to my rowboat. The fire had consumed my oars years before, so I kicked off against the rough sand and let the tide take me out to sea. Drifting toward a pale blue horizon, I looked back at the house that had been my home. The fire looked manageable from afar. Fires always do.