The night caught fire.
It burned with an engulfing brilliance. The reds and yellows licked the sides of the building – lavishing on its exterior heat and sweat and flame. And as sparks flew upward toward the midnight sky – the crescent moon entombed in black – a single ember fizzled and fell gingerly to the ground; its light all but extinguished as it swayed helplessly downward. And I watched as it did – myself shrouded in a sepia colored trench coat… and yawned.
“This is no way to start a story,” I said aloud. “No way at all….” Yet, neither the inferno nor the edifice paid me any mind. And I was forced to begin here at the end.
“It is finished!” he said, closing the book up tight. “Now, how to begin again?”
He was a portly fellow – bald, with a greasy black ringlet of hair just above the ears – and reminded me of a beach ball with a grapefruit fastened to the top. Not that I’d seen such a thing (not outside of my imagination, at least), but there he was standing right in front of me – staring decidedly at the book he had just closed.
The book – it seemed – was a red leather bound journal of sorts. A deep red – not vibrant – and could readily be mistaken for coagulated blood. Fitting, since the cover was of no smooth surface – with bumps and ridges speckling the whole. And yet, familiar somehow – as if I had seen this volume somewhere before.
“Would you mind dreadfully if I were to examine the text?” I said aloud. The portly fellow turned around like a top, and looked through me as if to see the wall on the other side. He pursed his lips to the corner of his mouth in the manner one generally associates with thought, and gave a consenting shrug. “Perhaps that’s best,” he said, and placed the tome in my hands.
It landed hard in my grasp, and I could only assume the words held a weight no mortal could bare. Yet – despite it all – I lifted it to my face to examine the whole.
The first thing I noticed (beyond the bumps and divots) was the smell. A must arose from the cover, as if time itself were trapped within its pages. “Aging,” the portly man said, and grinned. I squinted my eyes – trying to grasp his meaning – then returned my gaze to the book.
The next bit of newness I noticed was a latch. This too was throbbing red and leather, but with a bright gold clasp which shone exquisitely against the dull drabness of the shell. The portly man marveled at this bit. “To keep things well in,” he said, and waddled off.
I was now left alone – left quite alone – with his thoughts. And yet my mind turned from the tome to the room. For it too had a feeling about it – a cadence that echoed the dull red throbbing of the book. And though the room was stale (both in color and décor), still it pulsed. And I began to grow uneasy, for the rhythmic pounding in my chest echoed that of the room. And as it grew (the tempo quickening), I let loose of the book… and all fell silent.
I stood like a statue in that sterile sanctuary. All around me stood off-white walls, and below me, clean gray slate tiles. The color – the only color – came from the bound of book now resting like a stone on the floor.
“Heavy?” the portly man inquired.
“Quite,” I replied – not sure how or when he had returned.
“You get used to it in time,” he replied. I sighed in return – a simultaneous air of relief and remorse. “Yes,” he repeated once more. “You get used to it… in time.”
And that is exactly where I will begin…
I exited the room with a sigh and a shrug – my hands firmly placed deep within the pockets of my aforementioned trench coat. The light drizzle out-of-doors created caramel colored stains on my attire. Not that they were stains (mind you), but spatters of rain – as if the clouds themselves were spitting on me.
“Do you mind?” I said, looking up at the sky – anticipating no response. But how wrong I was to expect nothing in return! For just then, a single drop of rain fell (purposely, might I add), and stung my up-looking eye. “Well played,” I said to the rain, bending my neck back down to chase the droplet from my pupil. The clouds only thundered in laughter.
But to argue with clouds is one thing… and to feel the weight of the written word is quite another. And I had done both in my short expanse of time. Not that I am one for accolades (or any other lades, for that matter), so I wiped the thought from my mind. But still, to do both was something.
But once the thought was successfully wiped, my mind once more had room for the portly gentleman of which I have previously gone to moderate extent to describe. “What is he to do next?” I asked myself aloud. The clouds made no reply (this time) and I was content to converse with myself all along the path that led me back home.
What an odd word, I said to myself. To think there’s such a place adequate enough to contain us as beings. For the quandary had previously gone unquandered before my most recent encounter with the portly fellow. But now…
Things are different, I said to my questioning mind. …And will never be the same. And I knew it as truth (just as one knows wetness from dryness), but still, something died within me – as if my little world had been shattered… and the place I was now heading I could no longer call home.
I opened the door – first a crack, then a creak – and the only response was the sound echoing back at me. No need for Hellos,’ I said to myself. For none will be returned. I stepped inside and shook the droplets from my coat and shoes. I lifted my hat from its head and hooked it in place – a simple carved rack for coats and the like just inside the door. My trench was next – finding its usual spot on the wall. And once my shoes were squarely kicked off….
All is done. Time for tea.
The kettle crackled over the open fire, and the dull black of the iron grew red hot in the heat. The air (once properly steamed inside) whistled its intent, and I firmly (yet carefully) removed its hold from the hook.
The handle was curled wire – iron, to be sure – with the middle creating a place for grasping. Mitts were used (and pot holders, besides), and the teacups once again fulfilled the purpose for which they were created.
I poured the contents slowly… so as not to spill and burn. The first cup – half full. The second (my own) – to the brim. “I know you only like half a cup at a time,” I said, and tipped my drink (every so slightly) to show acknowledgement. “Cheers,” I stated, then delicately sipped my brew.
The fire crackled in place, creating dancing shadows on the walls. And the little figures – all made of light and darkness – waved their pitchforks as they pranced about. “They’re back,” I said carelessly. “For who knows how long,” and returned to my sipping.
The little figures, however, stayed until nightfall – dancing about the walls. Their little heads looking something like ellipses with concave tops. “Little points,” I said dreamily. “Like two little ears on top.” But of course, the dancing figures made no reply.
“Well… shall we off?” I said – my eyes drifting and dozing. And the next thing I knew (or didn’t), I was fast asleep.