Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dark Days, Lighter Nights

I flicked the lighter open and watched the flame dance in the wind.

Sitting on this curb was hurting my arched back. At my gritty shoes was a box of old newspapers, some little bits of grey matter, crumpled and shredded into meaningless words, a pile of filth and ink on wasted trees. I held a fist full of it to the light, inched the paper towards the soft orange edges, until a tiny spark caught on, licking hungrily, singeing their corners black.

Dropping it to the ground, I watched silently, as the paper ball crumpled, blackened, and folded under and over, caving into itself. Those dark words, so bold and thick, became unreadable - a sad "RPE DIE" of what once was, bent at its half-eaten corners, until finally, disintegrating. Embers, bright and majestic, floated above me like fireflies, carried off by a gentle breeze and disappearing into the night.

What is it about fire? I am admiring the little flame, still whisking and burning, jumping in spite.

The flames, light and innocent, curl and waft to the wind, as if thin and harmless - barely a breath's touch. And yet it destroys. It feeds and sucks up life with that touch, ruthless as toxic leeches, stealing oxygen, until there is nothing left.

With a snap, I kill the light. My father is calling me to come inside. Brushing off the powdery soot, I slip the chrome Zippo in my sweatpants pocket and bend down to carry the old cardboard box inside.

I love the sound of gravel under my shoes. The way it crumbles against each other, bustling along with your every movement, following in your stead. They are but murmurs, a light crunching of granola. It is peaceful out here. Quiet. I wish my walk up this cracked driveway were longer.


I let the screen door clang shut, ignoring my megaphone of a father. The box is shoved awkwardly under the crook of one arm. I see him sitting there, as always. In the dimly lit living room. On that mustard leather couch with craters of peeling skin. Holding a beer bottle in hand, stuck to those clammy desperate palms.

His back is to me. His eyes, enraptured by that boxed TV screen. He doesn't notice. He doesn't notice me stomp up the stairs, doesn't hear the uneven creaks of the aged sandpaper steps.

I am upstairs. Safe behind my bedroom door. My nostrils scrunch up at the stench. I haven't slept here in days.

Quickly, I click on my desk lamp and shove the box amongst the hoarded clutter on my desk. I knock over a few pencils and a small orange vial rolls to the floor, clambering noisily against the wood, the sound making me cringe at its harshness.

I hear shuffling coming from downstairs. "DOM! Get down here!" I jump, startled. I don't usually jump. These ears of mine have been tuned to his volume.

I look down. My hands are sweaty, shaking uncontrollably. Grabbing my things, I leave my room behind, without looking back.

Down the stairs I go, stumbling and carrying my bulky bags. I grab a jug from a large duffle bag and uncap it. Now was the time. Today was the beginning. I water the potted plant - its leaves forever drooping - for one last time.

It was time to leave. Time to leave this hell of a house.

His back is still turned, his eyes still watching the TV.

This time, he hears me coming. "Hand over my lighter you piece of - " he starts to say. But he stops short. His head jerks suddenly, his eyes snapping into focus, like dirtied, unused binocular lenses. He is seeing me for the first time in weeks. And for a brief moment he looks sober. But only for a moment.

All his attention is on me now.

You see, I am not just watering the plant. I had too much in my jug for that single pot of dead leaves. Glug, glug. I am watering the floorboards. Glug. Glug. Watering the soiled "WELCOME" mat that had been thrown off to the side for the winter. Glug. Watering the bookshelf, stocked overflowing with liquor bottles. Glug. Watering the skinny wooden chair that has been crippled for years. Glug. Until every last drop is gone.

He is frozen. Unable to move. The drunkard's face is plastered on and polished, eyes wide and fish-like, his mouth hanging out dumbly.

I am at the doorway now. Safe behind the threshold. My right hand clenches tightly around the cold metal resting in my pocket. Pulling out the lighter, I flick it open again. My thumb scrapes against the rough gear, in the same way that I have practiced for hours, for days. A sharp flame shoots up, obedient and eager.

"Dom, Dom. Son, just give me that," he pleads. His arms are outstretched, but he won't dare to cross over the carpet and onto the wet floorboards. I stare blankly at him, my eyes parched and angry.  No more beatings. No more drunk characters. No more scapegoating for his financial troubles.

This lighter will grant me my freedom. Today was the day. I let the metal slip from my hands, hear it clatter to the floor, watch the fire come to life. Brilliant and bright. Carpe. Diem.

And I was already out the door, ignoring his screams as I always do.