Heitzi Epstein and Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

Linda M. Rhinehart Neas – Homeless
(Photo enhanced with FastStone Image Viewer)


Lone Survivor by Heitzi Epstein

Once I lived within a house of rough planks. The home revolved around my warmth and flickering orange light. I watched my families’ lives unfurl before me. Couples arrived at the house in pairs and were joined over the years by babies who crawled toward me to be swept up by a mother, then toddlers who played in the ashes by my feet, then youngsters who grumbled as they hauled wood to fuel me, then young courting lovers who nestled in each others arms as my flames relaxed into embers, crackling in bitter blasts of wind drawn down my chimney.
The house grew with the family, one room at a time. Then the great illness came to our home, brought one Christmas with visiting relatives. First the littlest baby died, then the oldest son, followed by father. Mother stayed on through that summer with the remaining two boys and the little daughter. I watched them grow thin, making do with garden vegetables and small rabbits and squirrels the boys brought home. Mother stopped singing while she cooked. The children no longer argued over their daily chores. As autumn approached they huddled around my flames silently, frightened eyes focused inward. The first snow arrived early, trapping us all in its depths. The meals cooked in my ashes were thin soups and corn bread.
That spring, Mother loaded what furniture they could fit onto the cart, and they trudged off. The house rattled and whined in its loneliness. A few hunters came to stay for a night or two from time to time. They brought wood and lit small fires within me, just enough to last the night and warm coffee and porridge in the morning. Years passed and we became accustomed to the quiet of the woods around us, and the visits of small animals who nested in my corners and within my chimney. As the roof began to crumble, little trees popped up through the floorboards.
Then, one summer, years after the family had gone, lightning from a summer storm struck a nearby evergreen, which came crashing down on the house. The old rotted wood caught fire. I watched helplessly as my house erupted in flame, then gracefully collapsed into a bed of smoking ash.
I don’t know how many years I have stood here, a solitary monument. The sun bakes my stones and mortar, the rain washes me, and I remain, the last survivor.