Hearth


ago
3 min
54
readings
27
Finalist
Jury
Image of Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction
Stretched out between the living room and the kitchen, straddling the fuzzy carpet and cold tile, lies the warm spot—a vent affectionately named for its delightful puff onto a child’s cold toes. I say vent to garner recognition, but I knew and called such things warm spots long before the word vent was part of my budding vocabulary. Besides, how could I use such a harsh and ugly word to describe my lovely warm spot?

Whatever the world called it, the Turley children knew what it truly was. We also knew that the best way to enjoy the warm spot was to curl up underneath a mountain of blankets over the opening, allowing the greatest amount of heat to be absorbed by the shivering child as the warmth filled the blanket cave. Solo-ing at the warm spot, however, was a rare luxury. If you settled into the bliss with eyes shut, you inevitably felt cold toes creeping and invading, pushing your own toes to the edge of the heat. Refusal only led to a cold kick in the side, so with much sadness the coveted warm spot was partially relinquished to the foreign body and the incessant war for foot space began. Kicking and toe pinching was all done under cover so Mom would not see anything beyond squirming shapes.

The warm spot fit so well into the clockwork of my childhood: breakfast would be on the table when I woke up, dinner was at 6 ‘o clock, and the warm spot would dutifully turn on when the house chilled. A quiet but resounding “click” heard throughout the home, the rush of blankets and bodies, a quick and merciless squabble for the best spot. Then, the blessed six minutes of bliss, of peace, of warmth emanating from the opening, swirling through toes and fingers. The climax, a brief respite when the metal vent was too hot to touch with a bare foot. The resolution, beginning with a second “click,” of three minutes of gradually cooling air. It was like a breath, a song, a story each child knew by heart.

Frigid, wintry nights in our 1946 house of window cracks and door gaps gathered us over the vent, like cold wanderers to a campfire. My oldest sister was in charge when our parents were whisked away into the dark. We ate mac-n-cheese on rainbow-colored plastic trays in front of the T.V., always making sure to lay down equally eccentric beach towels so our clumsy hands didn’t drop cheesy orange globs onto the carpet. If the movie ended with no sign of a stern parental voice ordering us to bed, blankets were amassed, books were seized, and the five Turley kids were assembled expectantly over the warm spot.

We did not understand the thermostat, that ambiguous device with switches and buttons and dials and numbers and beeps, and even if we had it rose high above our outstretched hands. We did, however, understand the general principle: if the house was cold, the warm spot would turn on. Running from room to room, throwing window after window open, each Turley kid had their own assigned route to ensure the fastest possible drop in temperature. I would dash down the hall, skid to the right, clamor atop my bed to reach the window latch, then push upward until I felt winter’s press. Flinging myself off the bed, I would skitter to my brother’s room across the hall to heft his window open. The house sucked in the cold air, filling its roomy lungs, inhaling the bitter chill—and then, the click. Again the rush, this time running from room to room to shut each window, now with the added urgency of wasting precious air gushing from the warm spot. Diving into the blankets, each child wriggled into his or her territory, squirming siblings pushing and prodding as the heat rose, blowing a bubble underneath the covers. But the dash and the battle were always worth it; the air billowing and swelling around me, the warmth permeating throughout my soul, the pulse of my radiant heart—that moment is branded on my being. It was never long enough; in exactly nine minutes the mad dash through the rooms would commence anew.

After several cycles of roasting and running, lethargic bodies tipped over like fallen trees, sprawling on the soft carpet. We lay like this for eternity, little red-cheeked suns giving off heat and beaming with light, until the crack of the door opened to admit our parents and a rush of freezing air. “Shut the door!” we yelled as we threw the blankets back over our heads, but it was useless. The warmth was gone, our parents were home, and, once again, life began.
27

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