It was two nights before Thanksgiving and cold. The flames licked out of the tops of both running kilns. My eyes was getting tired from checking the peep holes because a watched cone never drops. I had the whole show to fire out and if things went bad I truly would have a Blue Christmas and so would my customers.

They left me off the hook last year when I over fired a shelf of 20 mugs because I fell asleep and missed shutting the kiln down by 15 minutes. The clay blistered some and started to bloat. I was honest and went online and showed them all. “It’s ok!” they said. ” They can be called COVID mugs!” So I put ten dollars on each for gas money and the safe ones sold out first before the good pots. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong working so hard. But I needed to pay attention this year. The cone in the first kiln dropped around 11:00 pm and the larger kiln fired on.

Cones never lie. I had to tell myself that as the kiln fired on well past shut down time of 12:00 a.m. I was doing 15 minute checks. I stayed outside by the kilns thinking the cold would keep me from dozing off. I had the alarm running on my phone. At 1:00 a.m. I thought I could see a slight bend in the cone and maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I had to shut down the kiln and blow in the peep hole to be sure I was seeing the cone and not the edge of some mug. In the fires at the end everything looks the same at times. There is was a slight bend. Thirty more minutes to shutdown.

Morning came quick. It was 7:00 a.m. when I pulled in at the Right Choice Diner for French Toast. I had to park out back by the railroad track as the street parking was filled up. The back dumpster was piled high with bags falling out and three stray cats were licking bacon grease off a paper towl. I walked through the laundry on the line and up the creeky wooden back steps where Missy was having a smoke outside the screen door.

“Hey Miss! Nice to see you. You all look busy.” She had little turkeys on her nails. If you were not sure what holiday was on the way you could tell off Missy’ s nails. “Yeah. This is my first break since 4:00 a.m. It’s been crazy. Hey just between me and you thanks for the money you sent over. I was able to get the books I need for my accounting classes. I have one more semester. But don’t do that shit again.” “Your welcome Miss.” I say.

” You let Robbie out from under that car, or is he still up there pinned?” I ask. “Naww I let him out. He was yelling like a stuck pig but he won’t kick me out and make me walk again.” “Yeah we all heard about that.” ” Well thanks again Alfie. Not to many guys like you around . Go on in and I’ll get you your mug and a coffee. You getting the usual or is it French toast today?” “French toast today Miss. The kilns gave me a bad time last night.” “Yeah you do look tired.” “Yeah if I do good at this sale we’ll run off together ok? ” “Haa! You tell me that before every show. Well you know where I am!”

There was one seat left at the counter it was next to old man Bob. He had pins of honor on his Vietnam Veteran hat and local fire company patches on his coat. “Morning Bob. Thanks for your service. It’s a hopping place this morning. You all ready for Thanksgiving?” ” Yeah we are heading south to see the grandkids a few days. It only an hour or two drive but I’m having my wife drive. I hate driving.”

” So what was going on up the hill last night. I thought I heard the fire trucks last night while I was out there with the kilns.” I ask. ” There was a bad trailer fire up on Charlie Skillets place. His kid there ..ohh what do they call him..Buttons ..yeah.. they said Buttons was up there cooking meth they thought. Brought him out in cuffs but his girlfriend and the baby might not make it.” “Aww that’s terrible.” “Yeah they had trucks from three different counties up there and four on standby.”

Miss was back and poured me a coffee. ” Hey Bob can you pass the creamers please if you don’t mind?” “Sure here you are.. I left three for you.” ” Aww what a nice guy. I’ll have to forget all the terrible things I heard about you.” “What’s going on with the garbage out back? Drivers on strike?” ” No they can’t find enough drivers to work. Big Jimmy was just out here saying it’s been two weeks since they been by.” “Well the cats out there are ok with the set up.” ” And the coons to!” laughed Bob.

The coffee was strong, and the French toast warm. And all the Blue Christmas pots were cooling in the kilns. I just hoped not to fast. Things were moving slow it seemed. I went home and put up the Christmas tree in the shop while the neighbor’s guinea hens chased a dog around the yard. A smell of wood smoke was in the frosty air and dark snow clouds hung low and heavy in the sky.

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