It must have taken George hours
to set up the fire in our backyard.
And now that I look back on it,
he probably had to get up before dawn to do that work:
Lay out the wood with spaces between the pieces
to let the flames glide through,
licking their way
toward a boiling point in the pot.
Because once the large, black cauldron of water,
the thing that made everything clean again
was laid upon the wood and the fire lit beneath it,
there was no going back.
Wood didn’t dry out quickly in Mississippi,
with all the damp and the rot.
So the fire had to be made right the first time.
Clean clothes depended on it.
I was only five when I watched from my bedroom window
and saw George and the fire.
I had just woken up between starched white sheets
that were cool when I first touched them the night before,
and still cool on that hot summer morning the next day.
I knew Ruby would be in the kitchen making the morning biscuits,
large floured hands gently patting the dough into shape, somehow
keeping the pieces of lard cool and intact, without melting
and disappearing in the kitchen’s heat.
And cooking the sausage that she herself had made
from the pig she had butchered last week.
In the dark. For us.
So my Daddy could have a good breakfast
before heading off to the mill that Monday morning.
He was management and had to look good.
My mother was in the kitchen too, but not working.
She was reading a few pages of the morning paper,
The “social pages” as she called them. Gossip really.
Sipping her coffee at the large kitchen work table
while Daddy was shaving in front of the
mirror and splashing cologne on himself.
Putting on the shirt with no creases in it.
The one pressed by Ruby.
The one white as the snow we saw in picture books.
Kate Flannery lives in the small college town of Claremont, CA, where she practices law. Her work has been published in Chiron Review, Shark Reef, Ekphrastic Review, and Golden Streetcar as well as other literary journals. Her heart remains in the Pacific Northwest where she grew up and returns occasionally to breathe.