He left in winter. Before he left, he chopped the five cords of small logs into smaller logs. These they piled neatly into stacks within the shelter of the rickety shed built around the houses' backdoor. She enjoyed piling the wood even though it was bitterly cold outside. Stacking wood was one of the few skills passed down from her father. She would set a base with a half log space between each log, and then the second set of logs would rest half in the space, half against the sides of two bottom logs. This kept the pile from shifting and rolling. It wasn't much of a legacy, she supposed, but it made her useful to him as he chopped the logs with an axe. He wished for a chainsaw during the long laborious work but she was glad for the absence of mechanical noise. She enjoyed the sound of first, the axe head against the metal splinter, and then the loud crack as the log broke in half. Next she would hear the thud of the axe blade splitting the halves into quarters. Finally, he would throw the wood to her in the shed where she would stack. They worked in silence but it was comfortable unlike the silences that filled the inside of the house. During these precious moments, she imagined that they could both learn to live with comfortable. After they had cut and stacked the five cords, he left. For good.
It was like him, she thought each time she brought wood in from the shed, to make sure she had enough wood. He liked to take care of people. To save them. He had imagined he was saving her. But in the end, he realized that she had saved herself. She didn't need him, and that weighed heavily on him. As she dropped the wood into the wooden box that marred the beauty of the kitchen island, she remembered how these tasks became the "manly" ones. It irked her when he took over the tending of the woodstove. He didn't know shit about woodstoves, she discovered quickly. The first night she woke to a house full of smoke. He had fully closed the vent on the chimney pipe. Then the second night, he left it fully open, and they woke freezing. Thank god, none of the pipes had frozen. Most times, he could barely get the stove stoked. He could not take advice from her, and she learned to just keep her mouth closed, set in a tight angry line. Her mouth too often found itself in that position as the relationship dwindled to an end. When he was gone, to the bathroom, or to get more wood, she would quickly fix his mistakes, and then go back to whatever she was doing, looking innocent or so she hoped.
Now the stove was hers. Of course only partly. Whoever had built this house had no sense. The stove was in the middle of the foyer between the stairs leading to the second floor with the kitchen island to one side, and the bathroom on the other. There was not room for the wood box which her dad had given to her when she moved. She loved the box though it was rather ugly, and it looked wrong against the granite perfection of the island. It had been built by her grandfather when was a little girl. It was stained a dark brown, and had a top which was now a bit wobbly. Each night she would make three trips to fill the box. Then she would stoke the stove with black iron poker, stirring up the latent coals hidden beneath a blanket of ash. She would relish the sudden flash of heat against her skin as the coals were revealed through the gray. Next she would push in a couple of dry logs, pushing the coals to form a nest. She would lay a few pieces of kindling directly atop the coals. She would close the door a bit, enough to allow some air in, and to make sure the wood caught. When she was sure, she would close the stove, and open the vent. Then she would make supper before adding more wood, and closing the vent a bit more.
On nights, when the pain and loneliness were stronger, she would sometimes make supper on the stove. She would wrap a potato in aluminum foil, and lay it near the fire. She would sit and watch the fire dance inside the stove through the door vent. Sometimes, she would turn off the lights, and let the flames make shadows of the walls and beams. She could never get him to do this. He was too comfortable at that point, to just sit with his arms around her unless it was going to lead to sex. Although, they did sit one snowy night, and eat chocolate chip cookies, made from the recipe found on the back of The Tollhouse chocolate chips bag. They hadn't touched though, just sat there in the dark because there was no electricity. Now she sat alone and munched her cookies alone. Her cats would come and sit around her. Once the potato had been baking for awhile, she would put soup in a cast iron pan, and lay that atop the stove next to the iron kettle that kept the air hydrated. She would mess with the stove, stoking it unnecessarily, adding some bits of kindling. She enjoyed this bit of care. And then she would eat there in front of the stove. The potato was never good, always slightly overcooked in some places and nearly raw in others. Her dad could make perfect baked potatoes this way. The soup would always be good though. It was hard to screw up soup.