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( May. 5th, 2009 05:43 pm)
The smell of smoke lingered on Miranda’s clothes for weeks after the fire. She started washing them twice a day to get the reminder out of her life. Everyone told her that she was lucky because everyone got out of the house okay. Her dad was away on a business trip and her kid sister was at a sleepover—Miranda, her mother and Miranda’s puppy Sunshine were the only ones home the night of the fire. Her dad had flown home the next morning to deal with the insurance company and her mom concentrated on looking on the “bright side” and finding a new place to live. The family was staying at Miranda’s aunt’s house; Miranda’s cousins were grown and her aunt was suffering from acute empty nest syndrome.

Miranda’s aunt loved to remind her family that they were lucky. “At least the children are okay,” she crooned, cuddling Sunshine on her lap. “At least all you lost were things.” Miranda sighed, rescued her dog and carried her down to the basement to throw another load of laundry into the dryer. Everyone said that it was a good thing that all they lost were things. Miranda knew she wasn’t supposed to be so attached to material stuff—it was replaceable, after all, and weren’t the memories behind the objects better? As far as Miranda was concerned, that was just Hallmark card bullshit.

At the insistence of the insurance company, Miranda’s dad made an inventory of everything they had lost in the fire. They were pointless things, in Miranda’s opinion. Televisions and the dining room table; comfy chairs they had bought at furniture stores. Miranda wondered why her father had bothered insuring things that were so… replaceable. What was the lasting value of a living room couch? They replaced them once every five years. Perched on the rumbling dryer, Miranda made her own list—a list of uninsured items, important items, lost items.

1) One Nativity set, hand-carved from olive wood. The crèche had been around for longer than Miranda or her sister had been alive and it was Miranda’s job to set it up each Christmas. The stable’s open walls and sloping roof were a perfect shelter for the little, hand-carved Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The lead camel in the Magi’s camel train was missing a leg from years of hard storage. Once there were twenty sheep with a shepherd, but over the years the number of the sheep dwindled and their shepherd disappeared. Miranda’s father loved to move the sheep around the other figures. “Sheep,” he’d say, “are inquisitive creatures.” Under Miranda’s father’s direction, the sheep would poke their noses into the manger, sniff around the Magi or just stare in the opposite direction—enamored with something unseen by the rest.

2) One stuffed dog, given to Miranda by her grandmother when she was two years old. She called him “Fluffy” because he was and that was enough for a two-year-old. He was her constant companion—her sandbox playmate. Miranda’s mother washed Fluffy once a week, letting him air-dry so his fur wouldn’t get wonky in the dryer. Miranda loved Fluffy, even when one of his ears was torn off and the fuzz had been rubbed off his nose. Miranda hadn’t slept with Fluffy clutched in her arms for several years, but he always held a place of honor at the foot of her bed.

3) Eighty-six CDs: Classic rock with an emphasis on AC/DC and The Who; Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here; the best of Robert Johnson; seven original cast recordings of seven Broadway musicals; three albums of Christmas music and Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster.

4) One porch swing—the site of Miranda’s first kiss, the summer before she turned fourteen. Her next-door neighbor’s nephew was staying through autumn. He was everything a summer fling should be—tall, broad and tanned by the sun. He kissed Miranda at dusk on the fourth of July. Miranda’s family had gone to the fireworks at the lake half a mile away, but the couple on the porch could still hear the noise. He moved back in with his parents at the end of the summer and Miranda never saw him again. Sometimes whenever people set off fireworks in the neighborhood Miranda would sit on the porch swing and pretend that he was sitting next to her again.

5) One well-worn collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and one equally loved set of The Chronicles of Narnia. Miranda’s father read the stories to his two girls when they were children. His voice was coffee-brown and warm like a quilt as he read Miranda and her sister stories about Plum Creek and Cair Paravell; stories about a girl who loved the big blue bowl of the prairie sky and a boy who loved Turkish Delight.

6) Fourteen silk neckties in various patterns—Miranda’s customary Father’s Day gift. Her mother had started the tradition on Miranda’s first Father’s Day—she gave Miranda’s father a red silk tie to commemorate the day. As Miranda got older and started getting an allowance she kept buying her father ties. Some of the ties were sedate, solid colors and some were outrageous and funky. The year before, Miranda had bought him a piano-key necktie, joking that she was running out of options. Her father had two of the ties with him on his business trip, but the other fourteen were incinerated.

Miranda’s legs swung against the wall of the dryer, wondering how anyone could call these objects “things.” Things were inanimate—things didn’t have stories behind them. Miranda hopped off the dryer and climbed the stairs, leaving Sunshine to play in a basket of clean towels. Miranda’s dad was on the phone with the insurance company when she entered the kitchen. Ripping the list out of her notebook, Miranda handed it to her father. He frowned at her in confusion, reading the list quickly. “What is this?” He mouthed at his daughter. Miranda shrugged, “ask them what their policy is on losing your childhood.”

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