Dad is not here, but he should be, soon, from work. He doesn’t drink and he’s not having an affair. He is a big man, I know. He likes red meat and horseradish. My sister’s boyfriend works, too, at the train depot, but him and my sister are both upstairs already.
Mom puts butter rolls in the oven at 425 degrees. Lying on my back in the family room, I have my feet on the grille of our gas fireplace. I test myself to see how long I can rest my feet on the glass part where it’s hot. I’ve seen mom try it. Ten seconds, fifteen. My feet are like tiny sock puppets. I know it’s time to remove them from the charred surface when they curl up. I grit my teeth at twenty seconds.
My feet shrivel like burning plastic melting over a lighter. Over a match. Over a box of matches. Over a bonfire. The protective screen is plagued with black singe marks from the loose threads that burn off and stick.
I switch from the glass to the grille again and the heat follows. I rub my toes from top to bottom between the gold looking bars. A tone sounds as I strum across them like a xylophone from the blue-hot place at the center of the fake logs. From Hell. The notes are too close together. Too similar in pitch. I test the dissonance, louder each time, blaming it on a goblin who strikes the bars using a tiny foot mallet. He crawls in and out with a finger over his mouth, hushing me. I test mom’s patience. She doesn’t want him in our home.
Next, my heels are treated, hitting the hot pressure points and nerve endings. I lie there with my mouth open like a doll’s, arms out, very limp. My cheeks’ spider-leg veins are reflected in the gold paint, flushed and prickly. Mom had to come get me from school early today. But it’s late now, or just dark. I check the clock on the VCR. It is 5:30 PM, in January, in Minnesota. It is dark. Dad should be home soon for a home cooked meal.
KC the Cat misleads me behind my back, going one way, a pirouette, then the other.
“You tricked me,” I say. “Your loss. I was going to pet you.”
KC the Cat is five years old. I am thirteen, but mom says I have an old soul.
Dad walks in and trips on my boots in the mudroom.
“What did I say this morning? What did I tell you to do?” he asks, out of breath from almost falling to the floor on the wet dirt-rug.
“You were supposed to move these! There needs to be an unobstructed walking path!” He doesn’t drink, he’s not having an affair. He is just angry. I think work makes him angry. Mom says that’s just the way he is.
“We have a shoe bin!” He yells.
Dad holds his knee while coming at me, through the kitchen, down the single step into the living room where I continue to stir, slowly. I picture him clumsily dashing on all fours like an injured farm animal.
He slaps the back of my head. I feel my hair get matted up. He orders me to spit on my palm, I do, and then he presses the damp side against the hot glass of the fireplace where I just had my feet. It hisses. Mom screams. Dad is trying to catch his breath. He grabs at his chest. He falls to the floor. All the noise makes my sister and her boyfriend come downstairs. My sister covers her mouth with her hand.
“Jesus Christ,” her boyfriend says.
The fire alarm goes off. The butter rolls are burning in the oven. My hand is burning. My sister’s ears are burning. Her boyfriend goes to fan the smoke detector with a blanket. He is used to furnaces and steam engines and heat. Dad is seizing on the carpet. I get up and open a door. KC the Cat runs out into the snow. I look at the neighbor’s chimney, and the chimney next to theirs. I look at the exhausting smoke and wonder if it’s from the combustion of wood or gas.