In my Writing for the Culture class, our assignment each week is to write a poem, prose, play/screenplay or non-fiction piece based on a broad theme. Each week there's a new topic. This short story was based on the third week's theme -- history.
Enjoy and thanks for reading!
He was running, running up a hill. No one was around. Over the top of the hill, he could see an old war plane on the ground, one wing broken and smoke rising. He was too far away, but the smoke was everywhere. The air grew foggy. Dark. He choked.
Wilson coughed himself awake. It was dim in his bedroom, but there was a faint smell of smoke. At first he thought it was a remnant of his dream, but the room was hazy. And it definitely wasn’t because he wasn’t wearing his glasses.
He jumped out of bed so fast he made himself dizzy. He grabbed his thick, green-framed bifocals, put on his slippers on out of habit, and ran downstairs to his shop.
There were benefits to living above his place of work – he didn’t have to drive, didn’t have to pay rent for two places, and he could go home for a bite to eat at any hour, even if it meant annoying his wife while she painted. He missed the smell of those paints.
He tripped down the steps in the dark. This was not one of those benefits. Besides the late nights and early mornings, the risk of fire meant both work and home would be devoured.
Wilson opened the door and immediately found it hard to breathe. He started to sweat, not because of the fire, but because his life’s work was burning away. His heart raced, his mouth felt dry, he was so shocked that he wasn’t sure he could move.
But if he didn’t he would lose everything. He couldn’t lose the shop when he had already lost his Lizzy. But at least she wasn’t there to see this.
The idea spurred him forward. Wilson covered his mouth and nose with his shirt and dove in. The antique shop was so dark and smoky that he had trouble figuring out what was what. His eyes started to water. He knew that since the front shop was filling with smoke and he couldn’t see any fire that it must be the stock room in the back that was burning. There was no saving those antiques.
He knocked into a table of folded up American flags, one that dated back to the Civil War. Next to that was the table of glassware and British teacups. The thick smoke had turned them black. Old brass pots and pans hung from the ceiling. A small canon lived in the corner. He passed the table of globes and history books. The sound of the pendulum clocks on the wall weren’t helping the situation; they kept reminding him that time was running out.
Finally, Wilson reached the counter. He couldn’t stop coughing. Through his teary eyes he could see the empty bullet casings he sold to kids and his coffee mug, still full from yesterday. He desperately wished he could take the 19th century cash register, which had been a gift from his long-gone father, but it was too heavy. Instead he reached over to the wall and took down a painting of him and his beautiful wife. She had painted it from a picture that had been taken on a pier many years ago before she got sick.
He could let the whole shop go, he could let all these once-precious antiques melt away, but he would rather die than let this picture burn.
Before he turned to leave, he took off the head of a porcelain owl and scooped out Lizzy’s wedding and engagement rings. While in the hospital, she had told him to try and sell them after she died, but he never had the heart to actually do it. He placed them in his pajama pants pocket.
The window in the back of the stock room blew out. It was too loud, too close. His throat felt raw. The smoke and all the coughing made his lungs hurt. Holding the picture protectively, he sprinted around the corner, unlocked the door, and ran outside into the fresh, cool air. People who lived in the nearby residential streets were standing on the opposite sidewalk, cell phones in hand, robes wrapped tightly around their bodies. A man rushed over and helped him to the bus bench.
“Are you all right, sir? Was that your shop?” he asked.
“We’re”—cough, cough—“fine. I mean, I’m”—cough, cough—“fine,” Wilson responded. “Yes, it’s my shop.”
Not soon after, the firefighters arrived. Wilson watched them rain down water onto his beloved little shop as he clung to his picture and couldn’t stop coughing. Since the fire was only in the back room and didn’t get a chance to reach the front or second floor, the blaze went out quickly. Or so the chief said. But most things would have to be thrown out, the walls would have to be repainted, he would have to restock, and the smell would take ages to disappear.
His wife would say, “Things end, things begin.” Maybe it was time he closed up shop and started something new. Lizzy had always wanted to see Niagara Falls. He would wear a rain poncho and get drenched for her. And he would imagine her laughing and, most of all, smiling.
P.S -- I've got a lot to do, so I'll be taking the next two days off.
See ya on Monday with a fresh post!