Ashes and the Spark
August 1, 2010
“You say that you forget things sometimes. What kind of things do you forget?”
I clutch the doll tighter to my chest, a vague swirling in my thoughts like thick fog, slow and heavy. The words come slowly, hard to find in the darkness.
“I… forget how old I am.”
“You’re 19. It’s been ten years now, since the fire. Does it feel like a long time to you?”
The warm orange glow, bright spikes leaping into the sky, the high-pitched shriek of heated air making its own melody to the crackling beat. Blazing screams rising to a crescendo then falling away so softly, so gently…
“Do you want to talk about it?”
These are my thoughts, not hers. Not things to paw through and write down, make static and shut away in some dark cabinet. They are in flux, leaping and changing, pain climbing into exultation, sparks of joy and the swirling ash of sorrow.
Mine. Not hers.
And there is fire again; the sharp smell of curling paint and the percussive explosion of jars of chemicals. Licking its way up the walls, frolicking across the ceilings, the fire is its own creature. It too, wants out, wants to be free, to live, to blend and merge, to evolve into its own shape, not be caged into someone else’s desires.
So I follow it, as it paints the way. Let the chaos and the shouting and the orders and the orderlies remain behind; my fire will not betray me.
Fused remnants of glass in the window of a soaked and blackened room. With the greater light to watch my back, I climb through and go towards the smaller ones.
My time to devour and grow.
The gleaming button eye on the doll is coming loose. I take the sewing kit from my pocket, lick the end of a bright orange thread and surrender to the steady, quiet rhythmn of the needle as it penetrates into fabric, slips out and plunges deep again. So delicate and yet so meaningful, this little replica of a soul.
“What happened on the ward today, Priscilla?”
That’s not my name.
“One of the porters looked at me.”
“How did he look at you?”
I ignore her. The needle keeps moving, darting into stuffed flesh and out again.
“What happened after that?”
I coil the thread round under the button, looping once, twice, thrice, then tuck the needle through to make a discrete knot. I nudge the button with a finger, much more solid now, light shining back at me from its polished surface.
“He stopped looking at me.”
Knowing she can’t see my face from there, I smile to myself.
Dip and pull. Dip and pull. Drawing the scraps of fabric together into something else, the neat outline of clothes worn in deliberate disarray, the hue of a tattoo. My model keeps moving and talking but it doesn’t matter – dolls are not static like art. I sit in my cosy nook, warmed by the heat of their fire, watching and keeping the rhythmn of my needle.
He was quite pretty. The rhythmn of his voice, the way it flared and sparkled… I felt at home.
“Whoa! Hey, looks like we got ourselves a little spy!”
Hands on my arm, dragging me out of my hiding place. The needle sinks deep into my palm and I squirm and kick and then emerge limply, standing quiet and cooperative, robbing my assailant of his impetus. My model is there, beyond the tattooed youth who grips my arm, standing with a girl who sits with a gun across her lap. I look at the weapon in fascination for a time, then turn back to the subject of my interest.
I hold out my gift, silent and hopeful, wondering if he will understand it.
“Oh hey, is this me?”
“Jayce, she was listening!”
“It is, isn’t it? This is me! Oh man, look how cool I look! It looks just like me!”
I ignore the others, watching only him. He was the one that mattered here, I could sense it. His word was gold to them.
“Did you make this?” I nod silently, allowing myself to smile a little.
“Man, that’s cool as all hell. Terri’s gonna want one. You know Terri, girl? Hey, what’s your name?”
That one stumps me. I put my head on one side for a while, have a think.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Ha! That’s my kind of spirit. You got someplace to go?”
I shrug. It doesn’t matter where I go. I’m already there. I trail after them as they walk out of the niche. The smell of fire still hangs over all of us, like a benediction.