I was living alone in a house, and set up a study on the first floor. A portable green Smith-Corona typewriter sat on the table against the wall. I made the mistake, or dreamed I made the mistake, of leaving the room.
I was upstairs when I felt the first tremor. The floor wagged under my feet – what was that? – and the picture frames on the wall stirred. The house shook and made noise. There was a pause; I found my face in the dresser mirror, deadpan. When the floor began again to sway, I walked downstairs, thinking I had better get down while the stairway held.
I saw at once that the typewriter was erupting. The old green Smith-Corona typewriter on the table was exploding with fire and ash. Showers of sparks shot out of its caldera – the dark hollow in which the keys lie. Smoke and cinders poured out, noises exploded and spattered, black dense smoke rose up, and a wild deep fire lighted the whole thing. It shot sparks.
I pulled down the curtains. When I leaned over the typewriter, sparks burnt round holes in my shirt, and fire singed a sleeve. I draped the rug away from the sparks. In the kitchen I filled a bucket with water and returned to the erupting typewriter. The typewriter did not seem to be flying apart, only erupting. On my face and hands I felt the heat from the caldera. The yellow fire made a fast, roaring noise. The typewriter itself made a rumbling, grinding noise; the table pitched. Nothing seemed to require my bucket of water. The table surface was ruined, of course, but not aflame. After twenty minutes or so, the eruption subsided
That night I heard more rumblings – weak ones, ever farther apart. The next day I cleaned the typewriter, table, floor, wall, and ceiling. I threw away the burnt shirt. The following day I cleaned the typewriter again – a film of lampblack still coated the caldera – and then it was over. I have had no trouble with it since. Of course, Now I know it can happen.
from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard