BY HADIA KHAN
Henry sighed. This winter, this ice storm, it had taken away from their perfect Christmas dinner. He would drive over to his mum’s house in Ottawa in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for slippery roads and the dozens of trees that had blocked the roads. They had hoped the power would come back on anytime soon so they decided to stick it out. It had been two days already, and their supplies were running low.
Henry’s neighbour across the street had headed for Scarborough Town Centre, where many other families had also seeked refuge. With over 90,000 houses throughout the GTA without power, Henry dreaded sitting in the cramped, uncomfortable, and loud space. That was when Henry decided that they would put their fireplace to use. It had been over a decade since they last attempted a fire there. But there was some wood and coals for barbecue in the garage and Henry's family was cold. He saw no other way.
The first attempt was a disaster. The wood was not catching fire. Henry groaned as he stood next to the fireplace. Annie quickly rushed towards the kitchen and came back with a bottle of cooking oil. She opened it and dumped it onto the wood before Henry could even make out what was happening.
“What the hell, Annie?”
Henry’s tone was aggressive and it caught her off-guard. “I-I was just-”
“If cooking oil worked, do you think I wouldn’t have thought of that myself?”
“But I didn’t think-”
“That’s your problem, Annie. You don’t think. Just do me a favour and let me do the thinking. I don’t have the patience to play games with you right now.”
The tears brimming Annie’s eyes as she walked away were invisible to Henry in the dark. He crouched down and attempted a fire anyway. Although the oil did catch a small kindle, it died out within a matter of seconds. The second time was the charm. Henry had run upstairs to their washroom. He came back down with the flashlight in the right hand and a bottle of axe deodorant spray bottle in his left. He sprayed it sparingly on the wood, his arm outstretched to the side, as if guarding Annie and their children from the burst of flame that never came. But the wood slowly caught on fire, illuminating their entire living room with a warm glow.
There was some smoke, but Henry paid it no head. It was probably the chimney, uncleaned for so long. Which was why he had cracked open one of their windows. Just in case. He set the coals next to the sofa, knowing well that it would do more harm than good to add them to the mix inside the house.
Annie had wrapped the twins, Ronnie and May, in a blanket as they slept on the Queen-sized mattress. Henry had dragged it down to the living room in the morning. It was too dark and too cold for the twins to sleep alone upstairs. Erin was pressed against Annie’s chest in the baby carrier. Annie wore a thick scarf around her neck, along with her new Canada Goose jacket, the one Henry had gotten her for Christmas, but forced to give it earlier than planned. She sat down on the sofa that was placed closer to the fire. It was only 6pm but everyone was exhausted. This winter had drained every last drop of energy from their lives.
Henry headed out, hoping to find a take-out place that was still open for business. He also needed to make a trip to Canadian Tire or Walmart and grab more wood. The small amount he had already used was nearly not enough to last more than half an hour, at most.
Getting to his car and opening the frozen doors was one thing. But driving on the crystal-like icy road was an entirely different struggle. As he turned onto the main street, the ice was significantly less. But the problem wasn’t the ice on the roads anymore. It was the traffic signals that weren’t working, due to the power outage. Henry groaned, scratching his head in frustration as his car barely inched towards the four-way intersection.
By the time he had bought the firewood from Walmart and gotten the dry basics, they had sold out of the roasted chicken in the bakery section. His only shot at warm food was gone. All the nearby restaurants were closed, and Henry wasn’t surprised. The power outage had affected everyone in their area. He turned to the cold salami and turkey breast. He grabbed the last 3 packs and dashed to the longest checkout line he had ever seen.
It was warm. That was the first thing Henry noticed as he stepped into his house. His body shivered, shaking off the cold as he bent down to drop the bag of firewood on the ground and untied his boots. The tiled floor was still cold. His house smelt of burnt wood and smoke. He closed his eyes for a moment. He saw his twin daughters running around in their backyard as Annie sat in the lawn chair, baby Erin in her lap. Henry could almost taste the sausages he has taken fresh off the grill. His mouth salivated. How long had it been since he had a warm meal?
He turned on the flashlight that sat on the shoe rack, and walked towards the kitchen first, placing the rest of the shopping bags onto the counter. “Annie?”
It was past 8, and he was hoping Annie wasn’t too upset. Yelling at her earlier definitely didn’t help his case, either.
“Annie? Are you asleep?” There was no reply. He took in a deep breath. It was really warm. Warmer than he remembered.
He decided to make some sandwiches, hoping that would ease everyone’s stomachs. When he walked into the living room, he noticed that everyone was still fast asleep, but the fire burning brighter than he had left it over 2 hours ago. And there was something dark in the fire, darker than wood. It was then that Henry walked over and noticed the bag of coal he had left beside the sofa, empty. He ran towards the window, only to find it fully shut and locked. He shook his head rapidly. “No, no, no, Annie, no!”