My Father Started a Fire


I got a call from my sister who said my father was in the hospital. He’s a long-time widower who lives alone a few towns away from where we do and he’d done something that can only be considered ill-conceived and a major error in judgment.

This happened during the big storm that passed through the other evening, the one that brought gale winds and torrential rains. My father had planned to cook dinner on his outdoor gas grill that night (nothing fancy, just hot dogs), but the weather didn’t permit it. Still, he tried. He went out there in the storm and got soaked but he couldn’t get the grill lit because the rain and wind snuffed out the flames.

What he did next was a big mistake. He opened the sliding patio door and somehow maneuvered the grill up the three steps and into the house. I can just picture him pushing and pulling that bulky thing, the hose connecting the propane tank stretched to its limit.

Once inside, he had no problem lighting the grill, which heated up quickly. He was about to put on the hot dogs when he realized the back of the grill must have been touching the curtains, which were now on fire. He tried to extinguish the flames, likely with his hands, but was unsuccessful.

At least he knew enough to escape the burning house. The neighbors called the fire department but the house is basically destroyed and my father has burns on both of his arms.

I’m on my way to pick him up now. It’s an hour drive. My sister would have gone because she usually takes the lead on handling things with our father, but she can’t this time because she has Covid. So I’m going to get him and bring him back to my house.

“He’s really done it this time,” my sister said. “We’re going to have to make some changes. I mean, no rational person would do something like that.”

“He’s definitely getting worse,” I agreed.

She cleared her throat and had to start twice before she could speak. “He can’t be on his own anymore. And the house is ruined, anyway.”

“Are you okay?  Are you crying?”

“Congestion. Sore throat.”

“So I’ll bring him back to my place, but then what?”

“That’s what we have to figure out. There’s that place on Whalen Drive I looked at last year. It was pretty nice.”

“He’ll hate the idea of that.”

He can’t live with my sister. She’s on the fourth floor of a brownstone walkup and my father has been having trouble with stairs the last few years. Plus she’s constantly traveling for business when she isn’t stuck home with Covid.

That leaves the question of whether I would have my father move in with me. The idea seems daunting to impossible. I’m not the caretaker type. My place is small. I savor my solitude and need long stretches of time alone in order to write. Plus, my father and I don’t get along that well. My sister has always been his favorite and I have basically been a well of disappointment. I did some things when I was younger that really upset him and our relationship ever since then has been at best cordial and superficial.

I grab my ticket at the booth and pull into the hospital parking lot. I suppose I could have him move in with me. This could be my chance to improve our relationship. Although I think things could be too far gone for that.

I’m not ready to go in and get him. I need a few minutes to sit here and think. The rain starts up, not a vicious storm like the other night that proved to be a turning point for my father, but an intermittent drizzle, enough to blur the windshield and make what’s out there hard to see.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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