He frantically swatted at the burning embers on his arms and shoulders as he aimed the impotent garden hose at the fully engulfed roof of their barn.
They had been awakened in the early morning hours by the frantic barking of their two watch puppies in the backyard. When he ran to look outside there was a flickering, orange glow in the back that was not a reflection from the Christmas lights up front. He hollered to his wife and bolted out to the garage exit.
He mashed the door opener button and, after what seemed like an eternity, a scene right out of a disaster movie revealed itself to his unbelieving eyes. There, up the concrete drive, sat their beloved barn crackling and popping as a massive fire engulfed it’s entire roof.
“The horses”, he screamed.
“They’re okay,” his wife hollered in return as she ran past him, “I can see them on the far side of the barn’s paddock, I’ll get them down to the lower pasture.”
He knew she was the one for the job, the horses would follow her into a fire, let alone away from one.
“The truck is too close”, he wheezed as he ran up the barn’s drive towards the dually that was backed up to the barn’s double doors. While he ran, he could feel the heat as he neared the truck, he was certain that it’s paint must be blistering as it felt as if his skin was on fire, he flung open the driver’s door and jumped up into the 4X4’s driver’s seat.
The key was in the ignition and with a quick twist the big diesel lit up and down the drive he raced pulling the truck well out into the back yard to make room for the emergency crews that he hoped were on the way.
He ran to the garage and dragged the long garden hose towards the barn, shielding his face with his arm to ward off the searing heat. He opened the nozzle and aimed the inadequate shot of water at the raging roof. He quickly shot a glance to the left and by the light of the flames he could see his wife, with trusting ponies in tow, safely down in the lower pasture.
Full of disbelief, covered in sweaty soot, with holes burned through his shirt he continued to aim his feeble stream at the barn. His mind was racing with the thought “what to do next?” but deep inside there was a dull internal calmness knowing that their equine companions were safe and well.
It seemed like years that he stood there, training his little hose at the huge fire and racked with mental anguish about what had happened and worse yet, what could have happened. He was drenched in sweat but not all of the perspiration was the result of the external flames, there were many internal ones, too.
Then, almost like an electric shock back to reality, he felt a hand on his left shoulder and over the roar of the fire a soft voice spoke into his left ear.
“Drop the hose, it is too far gone, and it is far too dangerous to be this close. The volunteer fire department is on its way.”, cooed his wife as she gently tugged on his shoulder.
He stood in place, dropped the hose, never bothering to turn it off; she grabbed him by the hand and lead him away because he seemed unable to decide where to go so she pulled him back to the garage’s porch, gently pushed him down into one of the two chairs and whispered, “Stay, I will be right back.”
He sat watching the fire, paralyzed with disbelief, “This can’t be happening, it’s insane, I don’t believe it,” he thought, as he wrapped self-pity around himself like a comforting blanket “a year of nothing but tragedy.”
His wife returned with two bottles of water, “Here,” she gestured and held out one to him, “You need to cool off and hydrate, we really don’t need you falling out on us right now.” and with that she settled into the chair next to him and turned towards the burning barn.
“I opened the front gate so the trucks can get in.” she said in a measured tone.
“I just don’t believe it,” he whined, still cloaked in the mantel of self-despair. “It’s Christmas, the barn is gone, the virus took my business, nearly killed my best friend, we should be celebrating but instead it’s just a collection of one bad experience after another, I can’t wait for the year to be over, this is insane”
“Maybe so,” she confidently countered as she took a long draw on the water bottle, “but you need to man-up and look at what we should really be thankful for, right now.
Look down the pasture at the horses who are safe and sound, it’s a damn good thing we never lock them away in that structure, except at feeding time.
Look around at the house that you finally paid off and celebrate in that knowledge.
Look at the miraculous fact that both you and I have managed to dodge the deadly disease and most importantly, look at the fact that we still have each other.” she added as she bounced the top of her bottle off the tip of his nose as if giving a toast.
“Look at all of that and then whine back to me. The barn is just a barn, just a building and no one was hurt. We will build another, man-up and get on with it.”, she concluded.
The pop on the nose jolted him back to reality. He gazed at her for a moment as the light from the fire played across her face.
“Since when did you get so damned smart?” he asked in amazement.
“Since I started listening to you, sweetie.” she replied, “Now let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get down there to calm those horses while we wait for the fire trucks to arrive, I did call 911 you know.”
She promptly stood up, jerked him to his feet and nearly knocked the bottle of water out his hand.
As she began to walk away, he pulled her back, she spun around with the barn’s flames dancing in her eyes, and before she could utter a word, he pressed himself against her and gave her a big old-fashioned sloppy kiss.
They pulled apart laughing, “That sure was no Hallmark Movie closed mouth peck.” she quipped as she wiped the slobber and soot off her face.
He smiled back, “Merry Christmas, kid, and thank you.” as a small tear ran down his dirty right cheek.
She took her thumb and brushed the tear off his cheek, smiled back at him, pulled him closer and whispered, “Merry Christmas. Remember; somewhere, somehow, someone is suffering far worse than us. We still have each other, you big ole sap.”
He nodded with understanding.
Over the crackling of the inferno they could hear the distant wail of sirens, so they turned their backs to the destruction and walked hand in hand towards the horses with a glow in their hearts and a beat of confidence in their gait.