Fires. There was a time, gone now, but remembered in poetry and scrawled in jakes, when my childhood house was without one. Empty grate. And mounds of ashes out in the woods where small animals scurried to the heights and got shot by Mrs. Mary O’Donlan, second brigadier to the admiral and fond of cream puffs when her man danced naked behind a parasol.
At such times, I would get together a band of brothers and hunt out houses with smoke rising from their chimneys. Then we’d chose one house. Send in a scout, who typically turned out to Wally “Wanking” Rogers, zip always at half-mast, face like a lecherous mask a priest may have designed if only he had insisted on more lashings.
Wally’s job was to make sure the fire was ablaze and that there was either a sleeping cat in front of it, a dozing patriarch with a belly like the Teton, or David Jones’ older sister drying herself in a new Marks & Spencer’s towel before a hissing radiator.
When we’d scoped the house out, I was chosen to go in and steal the fire. Usually I’d knock on the door, say I was a Welsh Baptist in desperate need of a total immersion in a house of sin to repent — or I’d pry a window and sneak in. Or even better, one of the houses would belong to an ex-girlfriend and I’d say I was there to make up.
Either scenario got me in. Then I’d scoop out big burning chunks of coal and toss them into Thicky Dicky’s callused hands and shove him out the back door.
Dicky’d go howling down the street and burst into my home and dump his fiery load onto the empty grate. And every time my mother would shout out, “Why doesn’t that boy ever wipe his feet!”
And then I’d sit by the fire, warm my hands, and listen to the ambulance siren slowly die away.