Kage Baker had the metabolism of a salamander.
Not the terrestrial kind, that indulge in so many eccentricities of size and habitat – from the Chinese kind that are 7 feet long and look like bloated corpses; to those Lolita axolotls who’ve traded maturity for juvenile sex and gills like faerie endive. Not even the ordinary variety, that we hunted in Griffith Park and the Los Angeles River when we were kids.
No, Kage’s affinity was with the salamander of classical legend, the alchemist’s salamander. That little beastie lived in flames, and breathed them, too; it set fires, nested in the alembic fire-boxes of well-run distilleries, and was generally domesticated by reputable sorcerers to light their pipes and cigars. Kage would have enjoyed life as one of those; she often remarked wistfully how she’d have loved a flame shower, or a fire-pit as big as a hot tub, where she could loll happily while sipping flaming rum and lemon-flavoured lamp oil …
This was predicated on her being able to survive flames, of course. In her heart, she knew she was designed to do that; it was just frail human nature that made her more akin to bacon than to salamanders. She gave the fire-proofing – and the incendiary plumbing – to her Children of the Sun characters, the Calai, in a fit of wishful thinking. They can bathe in fire and sip exotic oils, just as Kage longed to do.
Especially this time of year, she longed to be able to do that. Christmas to Valentine’s Day, usually, are the coldest part of the California year even in Los Angeles. Not even sitting between the fireplace and the heater kept Kage warm enough then; she’d also be wrapped in down coverlets and wool blankets in her all-enveloping armchair. Meanwhile, across the room by the windows – where the frost struck through the glass – I’d be sitting in t-shirts and cotton jammy pants, barefoot and gently perspiring. The wars over the thermostat were vicious.
It helped a lot when we got an electric fireplace. Then Kage could toast her feet right up against the glass, and control the remote for the special-effects flames all on her own. At night, she’d be in her room with the heater vent blowing into it all night; I’d be in my room, door closed, with the windows open over my bed.
Kage used to wonder if we were really members of the same species. Some of that made it into her stories, too. “I write what I see,” she would pronounce, possibly from the depths of a down sleeping bag. “And what I see is that you have ice water in your veins!”
Ah, but I was tough once. These days, my ability to resist cold has fallen victim to age and illness; I wear socks quite willingly, and right now am spending my days (when out of bed at all) wrapped in a thermal blanket with Harry snuggled up to me. He has a fine appreciation of being warm, and quite prefers soft blankies to stand on; nor is it a hardship to have a cuddly bird snuggling under one’s ear – Harry is softer than lamb’s wool and even warmer.
And though I regret not being able to run about leaving naked footprints in the frost forming out on the grass – well, it makes for fewer arguments over the heater. Kimberly is another shoulda-been salamander, and now she doesn’t have to argue with me any more about keeping the heat on. Domestic tranquility, at least, has gotten a boost.
And yeah, I realize that those of you Dear Readers coping with actual snow and ice are laughing hysterically at my carrying on: all I have to deal with is a little frost maybe 5 weeks out of the year. Nights in the 40’s, days in the balmy 60’s. Hell, frost or no, the roses are still blooming in the front garden, and the lemon tree is flaunting flower and fruit on the same bough. But the phoebe is eating berries now, because all the insects have died; the frogs’ voices are stilled, and the gulls coming in for shelter from the sea are contesting the park lakes with the wintering geese.
So I’m wrapped up warm. I tell myself it’s not because I’m grown old myself – I’m doing it in honour of Kage, who did so hate to be cold …