Warm and Inconvenient

When a dire emergency arises a crafty technician offers aid amid the overseeing scrutiny of a verbose, radiant plant…

by: Angela Townsend                  

It’s called a burning bush. All autumn, it gathers courage. Dark as bran, it watches yellow leaves audition to be principal dancer. Nearby, acorns strap on their helmets, then skydive. Flamboyant things turn crunchy. Color calls it a year.

The hedge with the buzz-cut opens the best wine.

Just as elections split atoms and friendships, just as ghosts demand sweets, just as liveliness languishes, the secret spills. The bush out the window is as red as a child’s heart, working the crayon down to its nub. It is a holiday out of season, an innocent verdict at 11:59 pm. It is the last laugh promising that no light is “the last.”

It is terribly inconvenient.

I was not thinking in those terms as I sludged across the hinge of November. My hours were as ordered as subscriptions for coffee and cat food. The trains ran on time. We were saving daylight. It was a fine time to be a creature of habit, reliable as a napkin.

You could set the atomic clock by my routines, confident of the precise five-minute window in which I would make my second coffee or brush the cat. Everything was cooperative. Whimsy obeyed the sundial. No jaunty men lifted the lid of my divorce with long-stemmed roses.

I stared out the window in the final stages of starvation.

I had been writing in circles. I defaulted to descriptions of my socks, then to descriptions of my capacity for writing dreck about socks. I was content, and calm, and regularly subjecting my cuticles to Inquisition tortures. I hungered out the patio door.

The bush was burning, festive anarchy against November’s treaty with brown. It made expensive beige outfits clash. It did not ask permission.

I contemplated writing about it, but the clock said I was due for a feeding. I went to the freezer for a waffle and pulled out a circle of sog. Panic surged up my neck. The ice cream. I gripped a pint. It whimpered wet in my hand. The veggie burgers were mud pies. The tortillas sagged with disgrace.

Being only forty-two, I called my mother. We normally spoke at 9:10 every morning, so she did not know to pick up the phone at 1:12 pm. I was existentially alone. The freezer was mocking. I shivered with theological considerations. My cosmos was a tundra.

I told the burning bush to shut up and began calling businesses with names like Appliance Hulk and The Fridgefather. They could come tomorrow. They didn’t understand the severity of the situation. I needed a waffle. At 7:15 pm, I would need ice cream. I explained that there is a nebular formation known as the Pillars of Creation, and its survival was threatened by the failure of a freezer in suburban Pennsylvania.

The cat vomited twice. I watched her work to cover her sympathetic eruption with linoleum dust. I asked her if we should fake our deaths, change our names, and hit the road for Santa Fe.

I called one more toll-free savior, The Machine Men. A golden voice answered.


It was a wrong number. All was lost. I pulled out the scissors to cut off my hair. “Is this the Machine Men?”

“Oh, yes! Hello. I am Pavel.”

“Hello.” I am attempting to hold the brittle fragments of physics and metaphysics in the same hand. “Can you come fix my freezer today?”

“Can you wait one hour?”

It was difficult, the hour filled with terrors. I could not conduct my 1:12 pm tasks of waffling and composing precisely one blog entry for work. My socks shamed themselves down my ankles. I told the burning bush to shut up and scanned the sky for horsemen. My mother texted me a selfie in a pompom hat. I decided she had never experienced suffering in her life.

Alexei arrived in blue booties. “This is the freezer house?”

This was the freezer house. This was the house of hours and minutes, Tuesday vacuumings, and 8pm New Testament readings, and Saturday writing sessions. Or it was, before the sacred melted into the profane and creativity called it a year. It was, before fall fell into a life of crimes against consistency.

“Yes. Did I speak with you just now?”

“No, you spoke with my father. Pavel? I think?” He had eyelashes like commas. He laughed. “I mean, I know his name is Pavel.”

His father’s name was Pavel, and his dog’s name was Ron, “which is a foolish name for a dog, except that Ron was the landlord who was good to us when we got here. From Belarus. So, all the dogs are Ron.”

In peacetime, I would have written this on my notebook shaped like an elephant. Instead, I asked, “do you think you can fix it? Today?”

“I will do my best.”

Alexei waltzed with my betrayer, and he took down each fridge magnet as though handling crystal. The porcelain pig and the rubber cat and all the red hearts found a safe landing on the counter.

“Did you see bush outside?” he asked.

“Across the way, yes.” I scolded the burning bush for having spoken to strangers. “It’s called a burning bush.”

His commas straightened to exclamation points. “It is glorious! Here in November, when all is dead.”

“Do you think my freezer is dead?”

“I will do my best.”

He shuffled it gently, as though trying to earn its trust, as though it deserved respect. I would soon learn the vagaries of Freon and the promise of a jug that looked fit for maple syrup.

“Freon.” Alexei held it over his head. I contemplated falling to my knees. “It should do it.”

“Will the ice cream be frozen by tonight?”

Alexei was young enough to be my son and considerably more mature than me. “I will do my best.”

As he slaked the traitor’s thirst, his eyes traveled my condo. “This is a special place.”

It was, once. “Thank you, I—”

He gestured at the cat tree. “Your animals must be happy. You must be happy here together.”

Freon is odorless, but humanity smells like waffles and autumn. My lungs were filling. “Is it just you and your dad at the business?”

“Yeah, good thing we are buds.” He wiggled his eyebrows, which had only just become wonderful. “You know, if everything gets soft again, I will give you back your money. And I will come back until it is right.”

The thought was wonderful and terrible. I was surprised to see that my hands were large enough to hold both.

“How long is the bush red?”


“Burning bush.”

“Oh, only a week.” I apologized to the burning bush. It assured me we were still buds. “It’s inconvenient.”


I was surprised to hear the word. “Just when you’ve made peace with winter, it surprises you. And then just when it fills you with joy, it’s gone.”

“You are a poet.”

I sank into the counter. “What?”

“You think of these things. I just say it is beautiful now. Who knows what next hour will bring? Something good, something bad, likely both. Here we are.”

I asked the cat if I should ask Alexei to marry me. Alexei asked if he could discharge the last gasp of Freon on my patio.

“Of course, but—”

He attempted to open the door. “Lock?”

I pulled up the metal security bar my mother had purchased, since I am only forty-two.

“Ohh.” Alexei nodded. “Did you know someone bad?”


“This is a good neighborhood.” I did not know that eyelashes could be therapists, but here we were. “You do not get a bar unless there was someone bad.”

“You could say that.” I asked the burning bush if he would spare me the trouble of describing my husband.

“Well, you tell me his address, and we will not fix his machines.” Alexei set the Freon at liberty.

“I don’t want to see you again for a long time,” I admitted, “but if anything goes wrong with anything else…”

“You call dad and me. We fix everything but microwaves. Anyone who offers to fix microwaves is a thief. They are too cheap.”

“I think you and your father are good people.” I was hungry. I picked up the cat.

“We do our best.” Alexei pulled off his booties. His socks were covered in Santa Clauses. “I am early. I love Christmas.”

“Then you’re not early.” I asked the burning bush one last time if I should ask Alexei to marry me. He said I should wait until the dishwasher broke. I told him to shut up.

“I am sorry you had inconvenience,” Alexei said as he swiped my credit card.

“It’s okay.” I had no idea what might come out my mouth next. “You’re actually right that I’m a writer—”


“—and inconveniences can be horribly inspiring.” I expected the clock to start spinning backwards. “They give me material. They remind me that I’m material. Form, not just sound.”

Alexei picked up the cat. “Poet lady, I don’t know where that came from!”

“Me, neither!”

He laughed. “You will call us again?”

“And I will write you the review of a lifetime. Hey, when will my ice cream be frozen?”

“I cannot say. But you will write about it, yes?”

“I’d better do it while the bush is still burning.”


“Give my love to Ron.”

Every eyelash curled. “Write about Ron. And me. And write about us on Yelp.”

The burning bush said it was proud that it didn’t ask permission. I told it to shut up. I sat down and wrote straight through dinner.


Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place : a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, The Razor, Still Point Arts Quarterly, Terrain.org, and The Westchester Review, among others. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.

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