11 February 2018

Bonfire of the Memories

The water swirls down the drain in inky spirals. Soot drips  from my fingers in fat ebony drops. The amount of wood and paper they had slung into the flames exceeded my original estimate. Drying my hands on the scratchy scrap of cloth at the sink gives me pause to survey the cottage. Pale spots on the walls give a mottled appearance, the hide of a great beast paneling the interior. The spots are rectangular and a spectrum of sizes. 

So many holes in my heart, in my memory, beginning to close up slowly in a creeping scrim of scars. The copious fuel of the frames and printed paper kept the fire going for the time it took to steam some clams scavenged from the tide line along with a small loaf of cornbread. The soul may be hungry but the belly has no complaint.

Fire. I see the embers glowing orange and red down on the beach. Ripples in the glass of the cottage windows diffract  and distort the colors, creating a ghost fire alongside the corporeal one. Sundown is almost complete here on the headland. Out on the horizon the lights of a freighter bobble and yaw on the moderate swell. The ship moves at the speed of glaciers from this vantage, but I enjoy its company. Later, I will return to the fire along with the ritual drams of scotch. A toast is in order this chilly but tolerable winter night.

I am swathed in a faint tang of woodsmoke and ashes. The walls of the cottage in contrast are now nearly bare. Frames gone, except for three irreducible memories, ones that remain embedded in the core of my heart. The rest, truth be known, had to go. The ghosts and the memories so thick in the air of the cottage one could barely move, much less breathe. In this thickness life could not propagate. Something had to be done. Emotional gravity dictated that this was not to be executed by the mere mundane act of tossing everything into the rubbish bin. This act of exorcism, this purification, called out for the power of ritual sacrifice. 

Fire it would be for the wood and paper. The glass was destined to be broken later, like plates smashed on New Years to cast off the past with its griefs and disappointments. Frames and pictures were pruned from the walls in the watered gold light of the afternoon. The stacks I carried down to the fire ring I had set up from a collection of stones culled from the pile outside the cottage. Scavenging on the strand garnered enough driftwood to set up a fine base. I wanted it to burn hot, burn bright, color the sky if possible.

There would be no gasoline or starter fluid in this temple of my creation. Too industrial and bereft of ritual weight. From the depths of my grandfather's heavy metal toolbox, I retrieved the worn steel lighter my father had carried with him in the service days of his youth. With a satisfying snick, a yellow flame tinged with blue shimmied before my eyes. It was right. It would do.

Stacks of frames. Stacks of paper. Lighter at the ready, I applied the flame to wads of cotton waste and driftwood twigs. The mass swiftly sprang to life in a tarantella of fire. The frames and photos were fed into the maw of the salamander, piece by piece, for what felt like hours. The making of the cornbread and steaming of the clams accomplished themselves in a daze. I recall eating, slowly, bread into broth, sustenance into belly, as years worth of memories combusted into sparks and smoke. The fire died down. So did my ardor. My shoulders sagged and eyelids closed while I sagged into the sand and wept.

I came to standing at the sink, washing my hands of soot, sand, and melancholy. Through the windows I could see the smoke spiraling upward in a thin stream. The wind was nearly gone. Looking around again at the cottage walls I felt lighter. More at ease now that the knot that had usurped my stomach was gone. In the corridors of my mind doors creak shut, doors creak open. In the real world I opened the casement over the sink to let in the cool air of a winter sea. The last light of the setting sun caressed the walls like Belgian lace. The walls, too, seemed relieved of burden. They beckon and whisper, the paneling and washed lime gently coaxing me to till the soil in a new garden of memories.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...