Wood smoke was the bane of Birdie’s existence. She wasn’t sure if a person could have more than one bane, (as bane seemed to have a rather singular connotation), but she thought that the number of banes tormenting anyone’s life certainly ought to be limited. Although, even if a pack of banes was allowed, wood smoke was Birdie’s Great Bane.
The Great Bane had awakened her this morning. It had sneaked out of the wood stove in the kitchen, tip-toed up the stairs, hopped on the bed, hovered above her head, and licked her nose.
Birdie had first realized her aversion to the smell of wood smoke as a young seventh grade teacher at a school in rural Missouri. A small, cheerful boy named Jimmy, who smelled like a smoked ham, caused her stomach to roil during first period class every morning when she came into contact with him. It wasn’t fair to keep her distance, and she truly liked everything about him except for the “smoked ham thing”, so she just didn’t inhale when she was close to him.
Neither did Birdie find campfires romantic. The smoke would envelop her, smarting her eyes, becoming tangled in her hair, and invading the fibers of her clothes. While others were singing “Kum Ba Yah”, she was thinking about showers and laundry.
The forest fires that did their war dances from time to time on the mountains surrounding Birdie’s home brought with them the daily morning inversion of smoke that accosted her upon waking and was viewed by Birdie as insult added to injury. She found the smoke abrasive, aggravating, chafing, irksome, irritating, rankling, vexing. Smoke was inescapable. You couldn’t close your eyes and avoid it. You couldn’t cover your ears and tune it out. You had to breathe, and there it was.
Smoke escaping from the wood stove was an enigma. The stove shouldn’t smoke. The seal was tight. The chimney was abiding by the formula for chimneys, which is a complicated math problem concerning length and diameter of stovepipe, distance from the peak of the roof, wind velocity and direction, and barometric pressure, all squared by the number of surfaces inside the house that will get coated with grime if anything goes wrong. (That last one isn’t really in the equation, but it should be.)
However, Birdie found you couldn’t count on physics to keep a Great Bane in its place. One of the variables in the equation would invariably lose its focus and unleash the Great Bane to romp about the house, assaulting Birdie’s nose and bedeviling her sinuses, while huffing and puffing a layer of grime over her life.