Burned Widow

by Lou Gaglia

Personally I am sick and tired of all those wives who complain about their husbands having dangerous jobs. Policemen's wives, for instance, worry every day that they won't see their husbands again. Deep sea divers' wives worry about some random leak. EMS workers' wives, pilots' wives, bicycle repairmen's wives---give me a break already. 

I am not a heartless person, and I do understand their situations all too well---I suppose--but their lives are simple compared to the heartache I have gone through because of my husband's job. You see, I was the wife of a straw man who worked for the fire department.

Yes, a straw man. Don't ask me to explain. He was just made of straw, that's all I can say.

We met at a barn dance, you see, and got along really well. You know how those things are: we danced, we went out a few times; then we heard wedding bells.

About a month after our engagement he told me the truth, that he was made of straw (funny, but it was only then that I realized what that strange rustling sound was whenever we embraced).

Anyway, I told him I didn't care if he was made of straw. What's inside a man shouldn't matter. It's what's outside that counts.

We invited all my friends and family to the wedding. They all took up one huge table at the reception. He invited his friends. They both squeezed in at the same table. But he invited no one from his own family. It was very odd. He told me they went to Atlantic City that weekend.

But after the wedding he broke down and told me the truth.

"They're dead," he said. "They're all dead."

He told me the whole story, how a few years before his mother had died when she ordered shish kabob and the flame went astray. His father died trying to put her out. The waiter doused them with vinaigrette but it was too late. The manager was called, and he was furious that this had happened in his restaurant. Before the police came, he looked around and found my husband's father's wallet. He became even more irate when he found no money in the wallet, only a few hayseeds.

My husband wasn't through telling. His brother died a few months later when a man flicked an ash onto him at an OTB outlet. And his sister was murdered when the man she was going to marry got angry when she called him a dullard. He lit her up with an old-fashioned stove match.

"Now, soon after that, my aunt--" he continued, but I cut him off. I couldn't bear to hear any more. I took a wisp of straw from his head and twirled it nervously in my hands.

"I don't want to be a widow," I said.

"Stop bawling," he said. "Ain't nothing going to happen to me. I'm careful. I work in a real estate office, for Pete's sake."

Two years passed--a tense two years, I might add. Every day my husband went to work in that office where his boss and most of his co-workers smoked like chimneys. They were always offering him cigarettes, too. Once, as a "joke", he came home with a cigarette in his mouth. As soon as he stepped through the kitchen he said, "Hey, honey, what's for dinner?" When I saw that cigarette in his mouth, I went right for the sink. My hands trembled as I filled up a bucket. I thought I heard him laughing and saying, "It's unlit," but I threw the whole bucket of water on him anyway. Drenched, he shouted, "It's unlit!" He had to spend the whole evening outside, drying. He was angry but I didn't care. I wanted to keep my husband.

My husband's unconcern for his safety was making me frantic. Then he dropped the bombshell. "I'm joining the fire department," he said.


"There's a spot opening up. I start tomorrow. So don't argue."


So his mind was made up. Maybe he had a death wish. Who knows? Maybe his whole family did. Why, for instance, would his mother order shish kabob of all things? And his father: only a dope would fall on a blazing woman if he knows he'll go up too. His brother frequented OTB where not only are men generally smokers but they're pigs as well. What did he think was going to happen? And his sister: what woman who's made of straw would be snippy to an Italian with stove matches?

And now my Red had a death wish!

There's not much else to say. On Red's first day on the job at the fire house (he began at 7:00 A.M.) he got a call at 7:15. A house was on fire in Brentwood. Red was the first to go in. The second fireman following him never saw him. "Where's Red?" they kept asking.

He lasted twenty minutes on the job!

So...now that you know what I've gone through, maybe you'll think twice before you sympathize with some poor weeping widow of a flunky hit man, or the wife of some suburban florist with a big mouth. I was the wife of a straw man who joined the fire department. Run at the first rustle you hear, girls, because it's just not worth the effort, take it from yours truly.

BIO: Lou Gaglia's work appears in FRiGG, Prick of the Spindle, Stymie, Breakwater Review, Rose & Thorn Journal, Blueline, and others. He teaches English in upstate New York.