You’re Real

The crackling sparks never escaped the wrought iron grate segregating the fire from the rest of the house. All that passed that boundary was light and sound and heat. Loving, soft, encompassing heat.
Rays from the flames danced on the ceiling, so low were its shaved weathered timbers. But the light made them seem almost alive, like they were once again standing tall in the forests outside, like little birds and rodents again found their homes in the knots gouged into their stern cores. It was fire that had dried them, fire that had toughened them, turned them from pale skinny slouches to straight umber beams.
They and others like them comprised the ceiling and the walls and the floor too. They had been plucked from miles around, surveyed and assessed and then chopped down, cut to size, and treated, before being installed in the house that was now a home.
Home. That’s what it was. It wasn’t a castle or a mansion or even much of a house; the bathroom was outside and there only was one room.
But it was a home. Planned not on paper but in the minds of men and then built with their hands, and their blood, and their sweat. It had taken the better part of a summer, and more days of dawn to dusk work than they could count, but now, with winter’s mighty fist pounding at the thick rough hewn oak door, it was worth it. It was all worth it.
Above the sink were a collection of mason jars, little hand-blown trinkets filled with spice and sugar. These formed a pyramid, a perfect pyramid, except that one jar, that one little container of cinnamon, was just a little off-center, just a little askew.
He sat up from the warm softness of the bed to fix the inequity. Or he would have, if she hadn’t wrapped an arm around his midsection and tugged him back down into the sheets.
“You,” she said, “are a perfectionist.”
“I’m not,” he replied instinctively. “It’s just distracting, that’s all.”
And then he heard her laughter, a soft sound like tinkling bells. A brief velvet kiss touched the corner of his mouth and made him smile.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just… we’ve put so much work into our home. When I see something like that… it just gets under my skin.”
Her arm still lay across his torso. Her leg too. He lifted his arm so that he could hold her around her shoulders, her bare freshly bathed shoulders, smoother than silk and paler than ivory. A lock of hair almost as fair as her skin slid through his fingers, as fluid and textureless as water.
He felt her finger enter one of the indentations between his abdominal muscles. This made him squirm and grin and chastise her until she laughed again.
“You shouldn’t tease me so much,” he murmured. “I won’t be home as much for the next few months. I’ve accepted an extra shift at work.”
She rolled over so that she was resting atop him, a single crease in her perfect brow.
“An extra shift? Why?” she said. “And why did you do it without talking to me?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” he said. He leaned up and touched his lips to hers for the briefest moment. “Now is the time to work harder and save more money. We’ll need more money,” he said, running a calloused hand over her shapely hip, “for when we have kids.”
That moment, when the expression on her face shifted to shock, to uncertainty that she’d heard what she thought she’d heard, to happiness that welled her eyes with tears. That moment, that was why he’d kept it from her. That moment, and the moments that he knew would follow.
She took his face into her hands, her hair a sweet-smelling veil between them and the rest of the world. She touched over the angular bones in his face, at the wisps of fuzz he’d neglected to shave off that morning, at the deep cleft in his chin. And then it was her lips that touched over each of these, and then it was his lips that touched hers.
Her chest rested against his as she sought to connect them in a different manner. This took a moment—her success was marked with a shared sharp gasp—and then their kissing deepened.
It was her tongue that entered his mouth, seeking to toy with his. He withheld her prize from her as long as he could bear it, and then it was his tongue that entered her mouth. So passionate was the intercourse that she almost lost herself to it. Almost, until he pressed his hips upward and pulled back from the kiss.
“Sit up,” he said, almost panting for breath. “Please… I want to see you.”
Her cheeks turned to their familiar rose tinge when he said that. She was shy—always had been, even around him—so when she sat up, shrugging the sheets off of her lithe form, he knew it was only because he’d asked for it, and only because she loved him.
He looked to their union for a moment, his hands caressing her wide feminine hips. Then his touch made its way up her sides to caress her chest gently but needingly, in just the manner to make her bite her lip and moan.
He touched her face, then. Her fair, beautiful, blue eyed face. She nuzzled her cheek into his touch and took his hand into hers…
But there was no warmth in her touch, nor in her face. Her hair, her skin, the pink tinge in her cheeks, the more he tried to cling to them, the faster they faded away.
Soon she was gone altogether. She and her warmth and the warmth of the fire, too. Because there was no fire, there never had been. There was no fireplace, and the thick rough hewn oak door, insulated with mud and moss and plaster… it was a warped scrap of plywood. Winter passed under, over, and through it almost uninhibited. The mason jars filled with spice and sugar were… no, he’d sold those off long ago.
At least he had heating coils, built into one wall of the house. They were old but functional, the legal minimum, but… they were no longer hot bright orange. They were gray and still and dead and collecting dust already.
The landlord said he’d fixed them, and he was an honest man, he wouldn’t have lied or done a shoddy job, so… they must have just turned off by themselves. That was it, that had to be.
Several living bits of filth scurried from him as he sat up from the scratchy yellowed sheets. Several more clung to him regardless as he used his arms to half-walk, half-drag himself to the edge of the bed. From there, he strained to lift himself into a wheelchair that should have been thrown into the scrap heap long ago. This he used to creakily ferry himself to the heater. He had no caretaker, after all, not anymore, not after the lost penny had been plucked from the welfare coffers.
His fingers untwisted from perpetual agony to feel over the dial that set the temperature. Strange, it seemed to be on, albeit in the lowest position… so he turned it up all the way, all the way until it ought to have been so hot that his utilities bill would bankrupt him again.
But still, nothing happened. He reached toward a nearby switch to turn on the light, promising himself that he’d skip lunch for the next day or two to pay for the burst of energy it would cost—but a lance of searing agony made him sit back down.
So he leaned toward the dial. Still couldn’t see it. Leaned farther. Still couldn’t quite see it. Leaned farther still and fell from his perch onto the hard cold unyielding floor, sending the collected dust flying and the collected vermin scrambling.
Agony in his head. Agony in his hands. Agony from the hip he’d broken in the fall. Perhaps he could have dragged himself back into his chair, but then what could he do? Just what could he do?
And so he shut his eyes and lay there. He clung to himself and dreams of a life he’d never known, the only possessions he still had.

Fiction Writer

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