The Retired Fireman’s Helmet

The Retired Fireman’s Helmet

The retired fireman’s helmet usually sits on top of the entertainment center in the retired fireman’s living room, but tonight, the fireman’s helmet is outside having a smoke.

Man, it’s rough waiting all day to topple off the entertainment center and scuttle out the cat door for stress relief. Calms his nerves, though. The fireman’s helmet started smoking when he was fourteen, and kept it up because it helped with his stutter.

The retired fireman doesn’t know the helmet smokes. It was easy to hide when they were working, because well, what fireman’s helmet doesn’t smell like smoke? The cat knows though, the ball buster. Anyways, he slips out the cat door and smokes about a half a pack each night. It’s nice out there for the fireman’s helmet, he can hear the sirens.

He used to be out all the time of course, when they were working. The fireman was fifty when he retired, but the helmet was only twenty-five. The helmet says people never think about that. They think just because a fireman retires, his helmet has to hang it up, too. He knows he was custom made to only fit his particular fireman’s head, but still, he thinks he could have been used in a training film or something. He could have a professional acting career by now! He doesn’t know, the fireman’s helmet, it just seems unfair. Now, he doesn’t even know if he’s got what it takes anymore.

So one night, he’s out on the porch smoking, leaning back against the railing, when a dog jangles by. He comes right up to the fireman’s helmet and scares the shit out of him, but the helmet can’t do nothing, you know, with his back right up against the railing. Wouldn’t you know it, the nylon straps on the inside of the fireman’s helmet smell, to a dog, like rank pieces of meat. So the dog sniffs the fireman’s helmet, you know, like all over, and he knocks him down and starts licking him. It’s weird. The dog tumbles the fireman’s helmet over three or four times, puts his jaws around the helmet’s brim, and runs off with him. The fireman’s helmet thinks, this is it, my life is over, I’m going to be chewed to death by a dog. He always thought he’d die in a fire, and then after the fireman retired he thought he’d die of boredom on top of the entertainment center. Mauled by a dog? Never in the helmet’s wildest dreams.

Dog takes him to a house and starts wiping up the grass with him, thwack, thwack, growling, you know how they do—and someone inside the house flips on a light, opens their screen door, and yells. And the dog leaves him, just like that, ass over teakettle in the backyard, and runs inside. The fireman’s helmet didn’t know where the hell he was, but fortunately it was night so he could rock through the backyards the way he thought they came. Well, it didn’t take long for the helmet to realize he was completely lost. So, he stops to take a piss and who walks up to him but the goddamn cat he lives with. First, she sits down and washes her entire goddamn face, and then she asks the fireman’s helmet if he wants help getting home. The fireman’s helmet knows he’s going to stutter, so he just gives her a look, you know, he just gives her a look.

Anyways, this thing with the dog. It was kind of fun. He was terrified and all, but he also felt—um, don’t get him wrong, it wasn’t about the licking. Well, hell, he admits, that was kind of a thing. No, really. It was those first few moments after the dog ran into the house and the helmet was lying in the dog’s yard. He could smell the grass. He didn’t know what was going to happen next. Hell, he didn’t even want a cigarette. There’s still some life in him yet, he thought. Yeah, he thought, there’s still some life in me yet.


About the Author

Ellen Santasiero’s work has appeared in The Sun, 7x7, Northwest Review, Marlboro Review, The Stay Project, Oregon Humanities, High Desert Journal, and in Going Green, an anthology from the University of Oklahoma Press. She taught literature and writing at Oregon State University-Cascades from 2007- 2021, and currently teaches at The Forge, a 10-month online creative writing program she co-founded in 2021. She is co-editor of PLACED: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon, Vol. 1Ellen lives on the edge of Adirondack Park in upstate New York. More of her work can be found here.


Image by Hilary Clark from Pixabay