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Burned: Of Anger and Ashtrays
She burned. She possessed an additional layer of skin mostly unfound in humans, a dynamic coat of fire. It shifted with her mood, waxing and waning unpredictably, but was always present.
In the town where Destiny had chosen to shelter me until Time deemed me worthy of advancement, there was optimistic cheer. There were happy, proud adults who constantly said, “You’re destined for great things, kiddo,” or, “Son, just wait until you’re grown up, because you’re sure going to go far in life,” all as if they truly believed it. I believed them too. Without a doubt, it was a beautiful era of innocence; heartfelt laughter and lush meadows extended their untroubled atmosphere everywhere, or so it seemed.
Everywhere excluded a single house: an old wooden residence with charred floorboards, blackened doors, melted windows and smoke dancing perpetually in the air. That’s where she burned.
They had a point when they said, in hushed voices, that she was frightening in appearance, very visibly dangerous. But the hypnotic, vivid light was just as riveting as it was repelling. It drew me near when my guardians weren’t present to restrain me. Their lectures and repetitive warnings never stuck. I always kept on returning to her side.
I’m grateful she let me stay, but her passive attitude also chilled me like ice. She never looked straight at me, only through my cold heart; dark eyes remained fixated on thoughts of the ones who had inspired her anger and ignited her agonizing torment in the first place.
She sometimes spoke of them out loud, recalling bits and pieces of unforgettable memories to weave stories of deceit and betrayal with. Some might argue that she was merely insane and living with her brain cells in a chemical-induced hallucination, but I think she told them for my sake. I would sit by her as she scorched a hole in the wall with her stare and absorb every single word through my porous soul.
The burning was far from steady. The combustion was an organic phenomenon. Most times the inferno was confined to a certain space, and while it raged and occasionally lashed out, it wasn’t harmful to watch or to be around. But sometimes she exploded. The flames could then be seen from the outside. I would try my very best to catch the cinders with my bare hands before they left her walls. I would clean up after her, trying to round up the embers left behind to spare her the disapproving glares of everyone around us.
Other times she simply let herself smoulder. She would sit back on her couch and smoke away the negative energies. The fire would grow smaller until it was barely a glowing blanket over her half-conscious form, asphyxiated by the same toxins which killed my airways and made it impossible for me to speak. She would stay that way until the poison stick which she, subdued and otherwise immobile, would bring to her dried lips completely burned out.
But despite all of these fluctuations in intensity, it was still deterioration she was experiencing. Fire needs a fuel to keep thriving, and it was feeding on her strength. It ate her from the inside out, incinerating her hopes and dreams first. I saw her independence being sacrificed, and then her body.
When the true effects of her twisted love affair with the treacherously beautiful flames shone through, I panicked. But she wouldn’t leave her blaze behind for me. No matter how much she suffered for it, the fury was still better company than little, transparent me.
I tried to help her, but I was unable to. My foolish endeavours never accomplished anything substantial. I stole her pack of cigarettes once, my heart pounding wildly against my chest, instinct entreating it to run from the gas grenades clenched in my hand, even though I knew they weren’t live and wouldn’t be until kissed by a flame. Unable to find an adequate hiding place, I ended up tying it to a rock and hurling it into the river. It was immensely satisfying to see the destructive paper rolls go down, bound to a solid figure, yet this failed to accomplish anything substantial and only slightly irritated her in the long run. How did I expect to stop fire from giving off smoke? I brought in fire extinguishers and used everything I could think of to tackle the heart of the problem, but the appeasing waters were boiled by my own frustration before they even reached her.
Desperate, I lunged myself at her one day. It hurt so much to witness her dying and not be able to do anything about it. But before I could touch her singeing skin, she lashed out and threw me aside. I remember crying in the corner, nursing my throbbing head and barely holding in the delirious screams as she carried on vanishing chaotically.
In hindsight, her pushing me away might not have been rejection, but selfless martyrdom. I believe she may have been trying to protect me from my unreasonable impulses. If she hadn’t, I would’ve run headfirst into her destructive barrier, and rather than extinguish it, I probably would’ve caught fire myself, or maybe even fed the flames.
Powerless, I simply watched until Destiny came to pick me up, reminding me that she was merely an accessory in a temporary background, and that the real stage had been set for me. He had the hardest time prying me away from the human torch at the center of my universe. Promises of grandiose settings and my name engraved in stone couldn’t move me, so absolutely certain was I that nothing I could do would ever matter. But strong paternal arms eventually won over my childish rebelling. I left with tears streaking down my cheeks and encouraging applause at my back.
Freed from the suffocating air and unbearable heat, my wings unfurled. I kept my focus on my destination as I sped upwards, eager to be allowed to come back down, but I couldn’t ignore the world I saw below me. I discovered with horror how many other people burn, how some freeze, and how many other forms of suffering exist. Each new disenchantment urged me higher, until I touched the sky. Once there, I chased the stars of my personal ambitions that I had previously pushed to the back of my mind; their lights had been dim in comparison to her brightness. From up above the concealing clouds, she was the one who seemed small, yet her I would never forget.
My hand finally connected with my goal and didn’t let it slip. Medical diploma in a sweaty palm, I returned to my hometown with Destiny’s permission. I didn’t stop for anyone.
But when I opened the unlocked door to her house, she was not to be found. There was just the empty, rickety old frame of an abandoned furnace awaiting me. In despair, I went through the drawers along with all the other places I suspected she stashed her bane in: every single desolate room, emptied safe, and forgotten cellar. I searched the site until I found a solitary pile of ashes on the floor, a swirl of calm white powder. I ran my fingers through it once, my actions infused with nostalgia and the slightest tinge of apology, then left.
My ties to the town had been severed, burned away. There was no sense left in staying. Suddenly, I had an unsought freedom and could breathe in the fresh, untainted air of the world without reason for guilt. Though Time, fair as he was, had never been on my side, I had a blank, untouched future offered to me.
I suppose there must have been some part of me possessed by a fixation with proper closure, for it was my very own hand that held a lighter to this blank canvas and frayed its edges.
Now I wander with my miracle-star kept close in my pocket, performing my duty of helping others and myself under Destiny’s approving watch. I still keep a small part of my heart unhealed and polluted as an infallible memoriam. The soot-coloured scar tissue reminds me of a forever lost chapter of my life. And so, with no other purpose or desire for any other kind of life, I have pledged myself, in damaged heart and being, to all those who burn.