The weather is uncharacteristically cold for the time of year. Every day I’m staring at weather forecasts which reassure me mild temperatures are on the way , but they’re empty promises. Our enormous wood burner cooker which is our only means of heating, should only be on in the evenings -if at all-now we’re in April, but we’ve got it going day and night.
Before I light the fire I open the chimney duct by pulling the choke. It jams a little which means there’s soot built up inside. I’ve noticed this for a while now.
“Do you know how to clean your chimney because you need to do that.” the voice of Butcher friend in my head. He reminded me 2 months ago when he delivered me some “excellent 2 year old eucalyptus wood which is maybe a bit wet but it will be dry soon, I guarantee you on my mother’s life and it’s a good price especially for you” that kind of thing. I told him not to worry because I knew how to clean my chimney.
But I haven’t done it since the first time I lit it after the summer, back in Autumn.
I light the fire.
I really need to sweep the chimney actually, just in case, I know that, but thinking that thought alone could unleash God knows what. And besides, it’s way too cold to waste time cleaning the chimney.
Tomorrow, I’ll definitely do it tomorrow, first thing in the morning.
It’s later in the afternoon that I hear the noise. It sounds like a plane, or a train, or maybe a truck roaring past, but I instantly know it isn’t any of these things. It’s a chimney fire.
Just as well I’ve had one before. So I know how to panic like fuck.
I scream for my husband who’s outside in our greenhouse while I ram the choke into the chimney and move the cover of the chimney opening beneath it to see how bad it is, flames lapping out of it, touching my hands, too fast to burn me, I close it immediately , while smoke starts pouring out, milky, like thick liquid.
After our last chimney fire I remember my husband saying we always ought to have wet newspaper around, because you can drop that in the chimney chute. But of course there’s no wet newspaper. Why is my husband taking so bloody long. I scream for him again and then ramble out loud what do I do what do I do and find a wet cloth.
I’m trying to think of the serenity prayer.
Grant me the serenity to accept what I can’t change
I can’t change the fact that I’m an idiot for not having cleaned the chimney earlier.
The courage to change what I can
“WHAT THE FUCK CAN WE DO? I shout at my husband who’s now outside to check if there are flames coming out of the chimney, “Shall I ring the fire brigade!? ”
And the wisdom to see the difference between the two
Hope. I’m just having to hope it goes out. That’s all I can do now. Even if I ring the fire brigade, they won’t come in time. If it doesn’t go out and spread then we’re fucked.
The roaring eventually stops, and the smoking too.
We’re cold in the evening but it isn’t too bad.
I’ll clean the chimney out tomorrow.
There’s bucket loads of soot and crap in the chimney, I’ve got a special metal brush with extended plastic handle and scrub as much as I can.
Once I’ve finished and cleaned up I walk up to villager P because I owe her money, her husband has dug over my borrowed veggieplot with his tractor. She invites me into her kitchen, her wood burner is lit, the oven part is open and some logs are drying inside. I stand next to it, warming my hands. Her paper frail mother walks in and we greet other, she sits down on the chair next to the wood burner and places her feet on top of the logs in the oven. As always we complain about the weather. I take grandma’s hands and touch the see through skin, “old” she says, but I reply they’re beautiful, because they are.
I tell Villager P what happened the night before and how stupid I feel. But it turns out I’m not the only one. It happened to villager O too once. “The flames where shooting out of the chimney and she had gone outside in her veggieplot, I noticed it and we got the big ladder and a hose pipe and got it out like that. If it happens again, just come and shout for the ladder, it’s always here.”
When I walk back home I have a sense of serenity over me and I think again about the serenity prayer.
And I don’t want to change anything about this village.