The last embers died in the hearth. Charlie had been sitting there, staring for hours, as the crackling logs reduced to twigs and then to lumps like coal and finally to embers, glowing hot and red.
He wondered if the fire were a metaphor for life – his life? Does everyone start out robust like a log and gradually, through time, dwindle to an ember and extinguish? Is that what life is about? He wondered.
Or was it only the day ending?
Charlie got out of the chair – he was stiff from sitting so long and his bones ached.
He wondered why he was thinking in metaphors. Not usually like him. At thirty-four he was robust as the logs he’d piled in the fireplace. He had a good job, lots of friends and everything he was told by his parents he should aim for in life to be happy, including a beautiful wife, a son, a daughter and a dog.
And they had a beautiful apartment in Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan – a planned community, mainly residential, filled with business professionals like himself, but packed with everything a family could want including more than one-third of the ninety-two acre developments reserved as parks and waterfront views overlooking the Statue of Liberty.
Now he stood where he had risen from the chair, transfixed on where the last ember of the fire had faded out.
The Statue of Liberty – the symbol of hope and freedom – of dreams coming true. Now he had only one dream.
He’d been driving so carefully as the snow started falling, and then as it built in intensity. He’d driven the route dozens of times and taken the same back roads each time because they cut out fifty miles between his meeting and home. He’d never thought that so much ice could have formed under the layer of snow that he would skid off the road. Or that his cell phone would have no service, most likely because of the storm.
The cabin, probably used by skiers, was the only shelter in this isolated, rural area of Massachusetts, and he was more than a little lucky that it was there. Empty now of people, there was at least enough canned food and firewood for a couple of days. And he’d be careful about rationing it, so he figured it could last at least a couple of extra days since overnight the blizzard had completely covered his abandoned car, blocked the door and was rapidly reaching the tops of the windows of the single-story structure.
He knew it was time to go to bed to try to sleep and yet he continued to stand motionless, staring at the darkening hearth as the ashes cooled.
The ashes seemed to have a chilling effect on him and he shivered a strong, lasting shiver that ran all down his body. Thank Heavens there’s a warm blanket on the bed, he thought, without realizing he was thinking it. He willed his legs to move in the direction of the bedroom and the warmth of the blanket and the comfort of the bed after a second day of sitting in the same chair.
He wasn’t aware of how quickly he’d fallen asleep or how long he’d been sleeping.
“Coffee’s ready,” his wife said cheerfully at the door of their bedroom. “The kids have been up for hours – they’ve got the whole week planned: snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and they said that you promised to take them on the snowmobile… It was nice of your boss to lend us his cabin in Massachusetts.”