“Sometimes I Can Still Smell the Smoke in the Walls”

Published in Issue 16 of Epiphany Magazine, www.epiphmag.com

Sometimes, I Can Still Smell the Smoke in the Walls

The smoke inside the house was so thick we instantly started coughing. The alarm should have gone off, why didn’t the alarm go off? The boys rushed ahead as if embarrassed, and I thought how ironic it was that they weren’t offering to help, now.

Before that I zipped my coat and we set up camping chairs in the empty garage. Make yourself at home, I said awkwardly, offering coffee? Soup? I have some on the stove? They refused. Just water. I closed the garage door and we settled in with that nervous, expectant energy of what we were about to do.

Before that, I was heating tomato soup when the doorbell rang. I opened the door quickly, their young man-boy faces red from the January cold. Is anyone else here? No, just me. They exchanged knowing glances. . . . we’re not supposed to.

It’s freezing, you can’t stand out there.

Maybe we can do it in the garage?

Before that I’d spent weeks wondering if they would actually return, and when. I’d heard the stories of it happening to other people. I wondered what they would do; I wondered what I would say. I pictured it with a fire, the three of us cozy on the couch.

Before that, they were red-faced and sweating, accepting tap water from my newly discovered box of glasses. They left a phone number. I knew they would be back.

Before that I was reminded how strong a couple of 19-year-old boys are, the way they took off their suit jackets and hoisted up my biggest, heaviest pieces of furniture in only their white shirts and ties.

Before that I was alone with a 24-foot moving truck in the quickly fading winter light, when two boys approached me from the alley. We’re looking for service opportunities and we saw your moving truck. Their nametags read Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Yes, I said. Yes I do need help.

BIO: Nancy Stohlman’s books include Searching for Suzi: a flash novel, Live From Palestine, and Fast Forward: The Mix Tape, an anthology of flash fiction that was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. Her work has been published in over 30 journals, anthologies and magazines. She is a co-founding member of Fast Forward Press and the lead singer for Kinky Mink. She’s currently a writing professor in Denver. Read her work at www.nancystohlman.com or www.nancystohlman.net