She lifted her head at the sound of his voice. It had been years since she had heard that sound, but she recognized it instantly. It was the voice she had carried around inside her head when she was a child, before things had changed, back when she was still happy.
His voice was clear and shrill and earnest and as lovely as it had been to her young ears. She looked around for its source, hoping to see the face that had accompanied his voice and had crowded her mind all those years ago. Her small brown eyes searched for his bright blue ones. She couldn’t find them.
But his voice kept coming. She wished she could stretch open her ears and cram them full to the brim until every intonation, every note, every whisper and every yell spilled over to drip down her neck and cover her skin. She used to swim inside his voice as a child and now, 15 years later, she still wanted to sink down deep and lie at its very bottom.
I don’t know
How this is where I came to be.
They said, “Stay away,” and now this is where I’ll linger.
I came, searching, because you would not show me plainly.
I came, hardly aware, of how bright the sky could be,
Of how solid death could be,
Of how dim and weak my life has been.
They said, “Don’t! Because…what if?” And now the what-if’s are all I see;
They’re shroud in gold, and freedom, and peace.
All the what-ifs I was made to fear
Now walk besides me hand-in-hand
Afraid of me.
She awoke to find pieces of her mind scattered around her. She had fallen asleep in the middle of the floor in the middle of the afternoon. It was dark now and she was cold. The wooden planks of the floor and the walls creaked in response to the wind outside.
She lifted herself up on her elbows slowly and looked around. At first glance it looked like all the pieces were there, but she’d have to count them one by one to be sure. In any case, it was good that they all seemed to be there. Too often these days she would wake up on the floor to find too few pieces remaining around her. Those days were not good days.
She dragged herself on her elbows to the small table close to the edge of the room. She reached up to turn on the lamp and picked up her notebook and a pen. Then she dragged herself back to the place in the middle of the room where she had been sleeping. Keeping her head as straight as possible, she sat up and crossed her legs. She reached out her hands flat against the floor and slid them forward until she came across the first piece. She examined it carefully, taking in the varying shades of purple and looking for any scratches or dents. She turned the piece in her hand several times checking for any roughness or chipped edges. It seemed to be intact. She smiled and bent down to jot in her notebook:
There was nothing else she could do, here among the ashes. The fire had come suddenly, out of nowhere in the middle of a quiet night, and now everything had been charred through, disintegrated down into gray dust.
The gray dust lay everywhere, in heaps here and there among the property, in a thick layer over the car parked on the street, blanketing her skin as though it were makeup powder she had applied carefully in the morning to cover her blemishes.
She sat on the curb, her back facing the remains of what had been her home for almost all her life. She had come to this house as a young child — before she could even remember — and had grown and stayed in it throughout the years, even when the rest of her family had chosen to go elsewhere, to more comfortable and modern places.
But she had always stayed. This was where she had come to know herself as herself. This was where she had lived her happiest memories and had mourned her greatest sorrows. This was where she had met her God, and had left him, and had found him again. Now with the fire, it seemed he had been the one to leave.