Two Writers and a Cottage: Adult Supervision Required

So this week, I’m on a writer’s retreat with Marie Bilodeau. We both have novels to finish and deadlines to meet, and 1.05so we’ve holed up in a rented cottage, pumped and raring to go. Marie and I being who we are, however, things haven’t gone quite as smoothly as expected. Here’s a snapshot–and remember, this was only our first day! 😛

Sunday afternoon, 4:00 p.m.

We arrive at our cottage rental, unload the vehicle, and put away the groceries. At 4:45, a frozen shepherd’s pie goes into the oven for dinner. We explore the cottage, read the welcome instructions, and settle in.

Sunday, 5:15 p.m.

We decide we should have a fire in the beautiful stone fireplace. There is no kindling supplied, but there’s lots of paper, and the wood is nice and dry. I manage to get a decent blaze going. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten to open the fireplace damper.

Smoke billows into the room. After a quick but frantic search, I find what I believe is the damper handle. I pull. The handle falls off in my hand. More smoke billows out. Two smoke alarms begin shrieking at a skull-piercing decibel. A 1.03laughing Marie begins opening windows and doors while I try to replace the broken handle and get the damper open. Marie shouts over the alarms to ask if she should get water to put out the fire. I shout back yes.

By now she is doubled over with laughter, and half the pot of water she brings is spilled along the way. She douses the flames, more smoke pours out, she fetches (and spills) more water, and I swear mightily at both the damper and the unbearably freaking-loud alarms. With the fire out, I take the charred and still-smoking log out of the fireplace and stick it into the snowbank outside the sliding glass doors. The alarms shriek on.

Sunday, 5:30 p.m.

We set about trying to silence the shrieks before one of the neighbours hears and we end up with the fire department on our doorstep. The alarms are on the cathedral ceiling, far out of reach, so I find some tea towels to wave at them, and Marie climbs on a chair. After much flapping (and wild giggling), she manages to silence first one and then the other. (I’m laid up with a knee injury, so I handle the swearing while she does the climbing.)

Sunday, 5:40 p.m.

I finally locate the damper control (at the back of the chimney where it had nothing to do with the handle I’d yarded on). The residual smoke drifts up the chimney. One of the alarms keeps up an intermittent chirping, like the signal 1.01for a weak battery. Marie thinks it might be a continued warning, because there is still significant smoke at ceiling height. She does an internet search and reads that it may need to be reset. We find a broom. She climbs back onto the chair and pokes the only visible button, but to no effect.

Sunday, 5:50 p.m.

The alarm chirps on. We conclude that it really must be a weak battery (probably because we wore it out). I call the cottage owner. No answer. I leave a voicemail message. Not knowing how long it will be before we heard back and unable to tolerate the irritating sound, we decide to try to get at it ourselves. Brave (and hysterically laughing) Marie climbs up on the arm of a taller chair. No go.

Sunday, 6:00 p.m.

Plan B. Still laughing, we traipse out to the shed in the dark. The flashlight Marie carries is entirely inadequate. I step off the path into soft snow that fills my boots and begins to melt over my sockless feet. We find a ladder, but it is buried behind too much stuff for Marie to get at, and I can’t climb into the shed to help because of my knee. Back to the cottage.

Sunday, 6:20 p.m.

I mop up the puddles spilled by Marie. She closes doors and windows and turns the heat back on. We’re chilled to the bone. I mention how nice a fire would be. We both laugh some more.

The chirping alarm chirps on.

Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

1.04One last attempt. The only piece of furniture tall enough for Marie to reach the ceiling is the dining room table. We move the coffee table and a chair out of the way, then carefully (oh, so carefully, because our track record isn’t so good at this point) remove the very large glass cover from the table and set it aside. Then, just as we grasp the massive table itself, I realize the chirping has stopped.

After waiting several minutes to be absolutely certain the silence will last, we replace the glass table top and the other furniture.

Sunday, 7:00 p.m.

Pyjamas and dinner (the shepherd’s pie is now crispy around the edges and much drier than it should be)…and another attempt to start a fire.

Four attempts, actually, much to Marie’s ongoing amusement. She has begun texting the saga to her roommate and telling me how entertaining I am and how much fun she’s having.

Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

I give up on the fire at last, and we settle down to do what we’d come for: write.

Of course, that’s when the cottage owner calls.

Despite our assurances that the alarm has gone silent and everything is fine, he insists on driving over (it’s only 15 1minutes, he says) to change the battery so it won’t disturb us in the middle of the night. I am mortified, but short of admitting I tried to set fire to his cottage, I can’t really say no. Marie thinks this is funny, too. We make sure all evidence of our unfortunate incident is cleared away. I close the blinds on the patio doors to hide the charred snow.

Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

The owner arrives, apologizing for having taken so long to get back to us—he’d been at his daughter’s dance recital. If there was a carpet in the cottage, I would happily crawl under it.

He digs the ladder out of the shed, moves a chair out of the way, and climbs up to take down the still-silent smoke alarm—offering, as he works, to light a fire for us before he leaves again. It seems we didn’t manage to erase all the evidence of my failed attempts after all. Oops. On the bright side, however, he doesn’t mention smelling smoke, so our airing-out has been a success. Woo?

As he replaces the battery with one he finds in a kitchen drawer, I clear away the charred log and unburned paper from the fireplace grate…only to realize that the reason my attempts had failed was because it was wetter in there from Marie’s dousing efforts than I’d realized. A lot wetter.

Sunday, 7:50  p.m.

The owner chats away with Marie as he climbs the ladder a second time to put the alarm back in place. I hide handfuls of wet paper under the fireplace grate and sweep aside the ash that has turned to black, dripping goo. It’s worse in here than I thought. As the owner descends again, I know I can’t let him near the fireplace without my arson attempt being discovered.

1.02I stand up too quickly and nearly cold-cock myself on the solid wood mantle above. As nonchalantly as I can, I go to the kitchen to wash the black muck from my hands so that I can rub the enormous lump growing on my skull and, in frantic whispers, tell Marie (who has seen the entire display and is trying—but failing—not to dissolve into hysterics) that we absolutely cannot have a fire after all.

Somewhat mystified but ever willing to play along, Marie graciously declines the owner’s offer—and then the smoke alarm begins chirping.

Apparently, the battery the owner used to replace the perfectly good battery is weak. As he climbs the ladder yet again, Marie and I pretty much both break down in hysterics.

Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

The owner has gone, taking the two batteries with him. The ladder leans against a wall in the kitchen. The dismantled smoke alarm rests on the counter. The fireplace remains cold, dark, and very, very wet. Marie and I retreat to chairs in the living room with tea in hand and laugh until our faces hurt. Writers’ retreats, we conclude, are great fun.

But in future, adult supervision for the two of us is definitely recommended. 😛



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8 responses to “Two Writers and a Cottage: Adult Supervision Required”

  1. Marty Ashlock Avatar
    Marty Ashlock

    Maybe you can incorporate this story into your book. You had me in stiches by the end. 🙂

    1. Linda Avatar

      Not this book, but believe me, it’s being filed away for future use. It’s too good not to! 😉

  2. Wendy jeglum Avatar
    Wendy jeglum

    You’ve got me in stitches too Linda! How did you two manage to keep warm when the fire wouldn’t work?

    1. Linda Avatar

      Fortunately it’s not the “rustic” kind of cottage. We have electric heat. 😉

  3. Nathan Smith Avatar

    Oh. Wow. That was magical.

    1. Linda Avatar

      Magical is one word for it, all right… 😉

  4. Nyx Avatar

    That was hilarious, Linda! It would be great in a book. New couple’s first weekend getaway. 🙂

  5. Terri Avatar

    Oh my!! What a hilarious fiasco!!
    I’m glad this retreat is going smoother!! Hope it stays that way too! ?
    Cheers to a productive time for you both!!

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