We Didn’t Burn the House

Caitlin Eliza McKenna

We didn’t burn the house down with newspaper, crumpled, and wood. Fire didn’t erupt from the hearth, belching glowing ash onto the rug. It didn’t smolder, burn, and catch flame to the paperback I left splayed open on the coffee table.

We didn’t burn the house down with the oven, left open for heat in late December, its gas ignition bumping on every few minutes. The conflagration didn’t spark from roast chicken drippings, hot with salt fat, nor rosemary turned to coal.

We didn’t burn down the house with candles set around the tub, knocked to the bathroom floor. They didn’t fall on top of the pink-and-green bathmat, damp from our bare feet when we tested the water and declared it too hot.

We didn’t burn down the house with the electric blanket, set on high, its warmth so delectable the dog burrowed and snored in the pillows.

We didn’t burn down the house with the dryer, its ducts padded with soft, sweet lint. Particles from flannel sheets and cotton tee shirts didn’t bind together and heat up until they combusted in the exhaust pipe.

Yet, here we are, in the space we lived. There was our bed. There was our couch. There was the dog kennel. There was the bookshelf.

And there is our chimney, our fireplace. At first, it looked eerie; a solitary corpse, alone in the black ruin. But now, with this delicate snow falling, those bricks, hard-hewn, look like the wrinkled, calloused skin of a middle finger.

Caitlin Eliza McKenna is a writer and historian from Colorado. Her short stories and creative nonfiction have been recognized or published by Writing by Writers, Desperate Literature, Shift, and Quarterly West. In 2022, she was selected for AWP’s Writer to Writer mentorship program for nonfiction. She is currently working on a novel about a graduate student haunted by the ghost of Jane Lathrop Stanford’s murderer.