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Controlled Burn

We could only see Love if we did not look at it directly.

Fiction | MAGIC: A Folio, grief, home
December 2, 2020

We stepped over the threshold. We had not been back for many years.

Regret glared from the frozen smiling faces inside the cracked picture frames, crooked on the dark walls. Eagerness waved from the overflowing shoe rack, muddy footwear in varying sizes ready to adventure forth. Warmth, bundled up in our wool thrifted winter coats hanging on plastic hangers, slid out with a smile when we peeked into the ajar entryway closet door. 

“Can you feel them?” Brother whispered. I could.

Then we tiptoed into the kitchen, where there was Love, shy and shimmering like pungent vapor under the stove lights—we could only see Love if we did not look at it directly. Loneliness sat on the counter stool, leering at Love while preening at its own reflection in the musty beer bottle clutched in its claw. Bitterness sat in the corner, resting its head in its burly arms at the kitchen table. Loneliness and Bitterness whipped their heads toward us when they heard us coming, scoffs permanently etched. How dare we show up now.

We reached the living room, where Contempt lay entwined with Pride on the old sofa; we had never learned how to separate the two. Devotion stood tall at the bookshelves, flipping through the photo albums of our family vacations to Myrtle Beach—the only hotel room we could afford was two miles away from the coastline, where Brother slept in the cracked bathtub and I slept in a ratty sleeping bag on the floor next to Mother’s musty twin bed. Jubilation danced awkwardly atop the scratched coffee table, hips swiveling to music only it could hear—perhaps the echoes of the scratchy G major scale practiced on Brother’s violin.

“Do you want to see our old bedrooms?” I motioned at the stairs to Brother.

He looked at me, eyes wide in fear. “No. You know who is waiting there.”

I did. Insecurity and Discontent and Anxiety and Angst lay in wait in our twin-size beds, tucked under moth-eaten quilts. So we left the raucous living room and met again in the kitchen, where Love and Loneliness had taken a seat at the table with Bitterness. They clutched each other’s hands.

I removed Mother’s ashes from my shoulder bag and rested the urn on the table. Love, Bitterness, and Loneliness nodded in recognition. They knew her very well. They had been her family while we were away.

Brother scattered her ashes around the floor. I dripped lighter fluid around in a messy circle, conscious of the curious audience observing my every movement. 

The bottle empty, I lit the match, causing Bitterness and Loneliness to scurry away from the sudden ball of light into the recesses of the kitchen cabinets.

Only Love stayed. It nodded at Brother and me in understanding. Love knew why we were here. Why Mother had asked us to come back. A rebirth by fire.

I dropped the flame.

Brother and I turned around and fled the kitchen, the living room, the entryway, back outside into the overgrown garden where Mother had spent hours weeding and crooning to her tomato plants that she cultivated every year, despite stray deer eating anything red that dared to bloom. We gulped heaps of fresh air as Home and its Ghosts burst into a searing inferno.

Brother elbowed me in the ribs, pointed in the air. I looked up, my gaze following the direction of his arm. 

I watched as Peace whirled under the stars, forming wide loop-de-loops below the Big Dipper, finally free. It had been trapped in Home all along. Peace drifted above the smoking cinders, swayed through the yellow lawn.