Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Smell of Fire - (Final Installment) Part Six

See Part One HERE
See Part Two HERE
See Part Three HERE
See Part Four HERE
See Part Five HERE

There was something so, well, unconscious, about her son, she confides. As if the spirit inside him had never truly woken up. It worried her greatly. He was drinking too much, did I know that? He was so much an outsider in that family. She said that, much the way she'd said Italian in describing her granddaughter yesterday. He was a lonely man, her boy.

She knew of the jibes of his schoolmates and his teachers too, she said. So hard on a little boy. And her eyes filled with tears. No wonder he couldn't wait to get out of school, a man who had the capacity to be an academic. Or a priest. And here she sighed and gripped my hand in both of hers a little more firmly.

I'm not asking you to wrench him away from the signorina, dear, she said, never. You are too spirited to handle him and he too dispirited to handle you. And that's the way of it.

But perhaps you can bring him a little ease? A little comfort to his days? Am I so far out of line here you think me meddling and appalling?

She didn't know it, or maybe she did. But she could have asked me anything and I would have done my best to provide it. Climb hills, ford streams: Martha, just ask.

I shook my head, no, she was no meddler, then I nodded slowly, demolishing the word “pimp” as it surfaced, unbidden, to my judgemental self .

I'll try, I said, I can try.

She didn't have to say it but I could never tell him of our meetings, for they were to gather and grow, little rewards perhaps for my attentions to her son, a cynic might say. But in many ways she was a mother/mentor - expanding upon my own personal vistas with encouragement, attention and connections.

Ian had a lot of free time, opened up substantially by his wife's regular jaunts to Las Vegas.

He would come to me after a bad fire and talk of it, talk of death or rescue, of children and animals and drunks with cigarettes burning or poor wiring and backdrafts and fire alarms and smoke detectors and axes and hoses and mighty red trucks and high to the sky ladders.

He would lay it all out before me, lying there beside me, for even after he showered, the smell of the battle would stick to his pores, drift through his hair, cling to the bed for days afterwards. He would take hours in the recounting of it all until he fell, exhausted, into a mumbling sleep.

And I'd lie there, propped up on one elbow, looking down at him as he slept, marvelling that the only passion he ever felt was in the quenching of the fires of others. And the only passion I ever felt for him was in the smell of it long after it was over.

But it has never really been over, except in the physical sense. Several years into this arrangement I met someone else and I got out of the habit of Ian while still meeting with Martha for dinner or drinks or her latest show.

And I still see her. In an artists' retirement lodge now. Near ninety she is. Alert, engaged, passionate. Teaching the fine points of her profession to any who'll have her. And many do. Wearing her signature yellow. She would not move in with her son and the signorina. It would have been signing her own death warrant and too soon, she says.

I run into him the odd time there. His seventy years looks ill at ease on him. As if he's too old for it, for he looks older than her now. He asks me about my books, my columns, my plays. He tells me as he accompanies me out to my car in the parking lot that he has never loved anyone like he loved me and I believe him.

Some would be flattered by this. But I am sad. For indeed wasn't it a poor excuse for a love affair we had?

And then I remember the smell of fire on him.

And I wonder what I missed.


  1. I guess you did your duty and got Martha's company out of the deal. You never did say if you loved him.

    He may have been a good firefighter, but he wasn't much of a man, was he? He didn't stick up for himself and let himself be handled by the women in his life. In the case of his wife, he let himself be mistreated and didn't have the guts to walk out, yet allowed his mother to arrange a deal for him that was satisfactory to them both.

    I'm sure he was aware of it and that was the reason he introduced you to her. I don't think he was as innocent as you make him sound. He had an agenda also. At the same time, he almost takes a backseat in this story, which is foremost about the women in his life.

  2. I loved then ending. What a beautiful and sad story.

  3. What a great story! I've just gone back and re-read the lot in one go :-) So beautifully written - thank you.

  4. A poignant contrast between the energetic, vibrant mother and the reserved, cautious son. Though there's an intriguing paradox that fire-fighting can often be quite tough and dangerous. And how depressingly predictable the events of Part Five. A very interesting story.

  5. You always manage an unexpected ending. This time a sad one.

  6. Nora:
    That's the interesting thing about readers, we all take something different away, sometimes not remotely what the writer had in mind.
    Thank you. I've written about this man before, he seems to encapsulate what I attract in the male.
    Thank you!
    I am so glad you picked that up! It is extraordinary how one passion can't seem to ignite any others in some. And it was reflected in the mother also.
    It is odd that. I am sad but they are not at all.

  7. I guess I was super critical and forgot to read the story for the sake of the story. The story itself was good and you see how it affected me. I took you very seriously. I cared too much about the narrator and how she came out of it, which was not too bad in the end after all. I do hate it when a woman is mistreated. Do you think the narrator felt abused?

  8. Nora:
    What matters is what you think, reading what others have written opens us up to other experiences/feelings/reactions.

    How do you think the narrator feels?


  9. Thought provoking tale, WWW. I enjoyed it.

    I can't say I had a deal of sympathy for either the mother or the son, though I accept that I ought to have some, considering what she went through in her youth.

    I admired the narrator, yet felt she was being unfairly used by the mother - who I finished up disliking a lot. She took advantage of the narrator's loving feelings for her, not an admirable trait.

    But super story, super writing, WWW. Thank you.

  10. I would think that the narrator felt used, though maybe not at the time the relationship was going on, but afterwards. I think she was disabused by the mother for the sake of the son, although the son did not play an innocent role in it either. I wonder how often they played this trick. I think the narrator is well off without these people in her life. Strike that one up to experience.

  11. I've been thinking about this story all day - there were so many contrasts and contradictions - the fact that he hated the fire (part 2), but his only passion was in quenching the fire of others (part 6); the no and yes as the mother being a meddler - a contradiction within itself; the fact that Rose was the "CFO of the marriage", but couldn't see the financial issues with her and her sisters going to Vegas (if it was preventing him from retiring, it would not have been a minor expense!)

    There's a lot of judgement and re-judgement (the mother is described as 'careless' before we know her, yet she takes so much care over everything), and I was certainly revising my opinion of everyone in the piece by the end of it!

    Certainly a story that bears rereading :-)

  12. Thank you all for your input, this is the first time I've posted a first draft of a story. I started thinking about Martha and her son one day and it evolved from there.
    I was writing about contradictions and what we say/feel doesn't often match what we do. As in the fireman, and yes, he existed.

    If these people generated strong feelings, I am honoured as that is what a writer tries to do.


  13. T & Nora:
    Interesting that you both felt the narrator was being used, for wasn't she also using?
    The son (the pawn) came off the worst?
    The narrator had success spun off in no small part by the mother?
    The mother deflected the feelings of the narrator onto the son as she was incapable of feeling for anything/anyone, only her art.
    I will work with it some more as it is only first draft.

  14. Jo:
    Thanks for taking all the time to think about it. Your review is most helpful as you totally "get" what I was trying to do.
    Emotional unavailability being a great part of it.
    No one in the story is emotionally available to anyone else and the one who tries (the narrator) fails also.
    I don't think the narrator is truly likeable either.

  15. Do you mean that everyone had their own agenda and their own needs and that they all used this opportunity to see them taken care off?

    If so, I think you need to be a little more explicit about that in the story so your readers won't have to have a dialogue with you.

    The story is very good and morals can be drawn from it, but they need to be a bit more clear.

    Good work, WWW

  16. WWW ~~~ an old saying/quote came to mind after reading your comment

    Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum. And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
    [1872 A. De morgan Budget of Paradoxes 377]


  17. Nora:
    thanks for the input, I truly believe that a writer can never spell everything out, the reader has to do some work!
    Everyone on this earth has an agenda, that is a given, my friend!

  18. T:
    Oh very well said, I had forgotten this wonderful quote - I believe Charles Dickens quoted it also which is where I heard it first.
    And perhaps what we write tis of fleas?
    Fleablogs. Yes.


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