The Silverware

Tonight I’m polishing the silverware. I bought it at a yardsale thirty-two years ago, but you won’t find a spot of varnish anywhere. I think it’s 18th century, but I got it at a yardsale thirty-two years ago. A good deal no matter how you slice it.

I don’t use it, of course. Jenny used to say we should, when company came over. But I always thought it looked better in the display. When company came over they’d never notice the actual silverware, or the china. They’d always notice the case, though, and I’d explain how I bought it at a yardsale thirty-two or twenty-nine or ten years ago. Might be 18th century, too. How do I know? Look at the way it shines. They don’t make it like that anymore.

Sleeping in a four-poster bed is a treat, too. You should try it sometime. Not just any four-poster bed, but an ornately carved beauty. The kind you can only find at an auction. Fact is, I found mine at an auction twenty-seven years ago. By then Jenny had left me, but I didn’t mind the extra space. I can lie there and imagine running my hands over the carvings and imagine myself imagining the fellow who spent his time chiseling out the grooves.

These are the things I think about as I polish the silverware before bed. The silverware and the bed. Beautiful works of art in their own way. And I found them at an auction and yardsale. Remarkable.

I wake up seven hours later coughing. Bathed in sweat. I realise my room is too bright and too hot before I understand that the house is on fire. My bed is on fire, even. When I throw the blanket aside, the flames move with it, and then gather back in around the bed like a halo. As I leap to the floor I can see the carvings turning to ash and cracking off: the anguish at the thought keeps me from thinking about the anguish in my feet as they blister wherever they touch floorboard.

The stairs have almost collapsed. Smoke is billowing upwards, escaping somewhere, as I make my way downstairs. I am ginger on the steps, though almost blind with the heat. Arm in front of my eyes. Not doing much good.

I make it to the front door before remembering the china. In a split second it seems that if I can save anything at all it should be that one last reminder; I rush to the kitchen table where they’re neatly arranged inside the case. Miraculously, it’s unscathed. I grab it, gritting my teeth in pain at the frame’s heat, and turn as the table collapses in a cloud of sparks behind me.

They land in my hair, on my clothes, but I don’t mind, until I realise my pajamas are on fire. I race for the door, for fresh air.

Outside, I strip frantically, and drop on the grass, rolling to soothe my skin. I have flakes of polyester all over me. In a moment I feel better.

I walk over to the rapidly cooling case and pick it up. Jumbled, but it’s all there. The silverware.

It’s then I notice the neighbors. I cover up my crotch with the case of silverware as they stare at me, shocked. My mind flashed to a thousand things: insurance, Jenny, sirens in the distance.

I’m standing naked on my front lawn, and it occurs to me finally to be ashamed of this fact. There I am, on the front lawn, as the second floor begins to collapse into the first, naked and ashamed.

But for a moment I’m happy, as the company staring wide-eyed at my collapsing possessions gets one final chance to admire the silverware.