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Stamp them out
She rocks back and forth in her chair; you can see the fire reflected in her eyes. They dart to and fro, left to right- like a backwards searchlight. She is the darkness. She scans the light of the fire with her dark and solemn eyes, looking for something. But for what I cannot say.
“What ‘cha thinking ‘bout?” I break the silence.
The sound of my own obnoxious voice hangs heavy in the air.
“It's not like you could understand. Besides, someone like you wouldn't be interested in such things.”
She always refers to me as ‘someone like you,' or, ‘people like you.' It doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. I allow for a moment of silence before pressing the matter any further.
“Try me,” I challenge.
She lets out a deep sigh- not the impatient kind, mind you, but the sad, lonesome, tired kind. I just want to run over to her and wrap her up in my arms, and tell her everything is going to be alright. But I know she won't have it. She's the kind of person who refuses to let anyone feel sorry for her. She could be crying and wringing her hands and screaming at the top of her voice, but if you were to ask her what the matter was she'd look at you like you were a crazy person and insist on her being perfectly fine.
“Have you ever just wanted to leave?”
She doesn't wait for me to answer.
“Have you ever just wanted to leave so badly that you were willing to believe anything in order to get out of the rut that you're in?”
I assume this is a rhetorical question and, instead of replying, wait patiently for her to continue.
“Well, that's how I feel now.-”
She pauses, and I brace myself. I should have never asked what she was thinking about. My mother is not the type of person to have a normal, civilized conversation. She's always saying crazy, off the wall, depressing sorts of things. When I was little I thought she was a genius. Now I realize she's just a crazy person. She draws her breath and I cringe, I know what's coming.
“Just now, I had a thought. The fire, it seems so alive, as if it could hold life of its own. So mysterious, you know, as if it were a gateway to some separate reality, some separate world apart from our own.”
“Don't look at me like that, I told you before that you wouldn't be interested in such things, didn't I? You just had to keep pressing. You wanted to know what I was thinking about and now I'm telling you and maybe you should learn not to ask questions you don't want to know the answers to.”
“Like I said,” she continues.
“I felt as if it could have been a gateway to another world. All of the embers would make up little cities and villages where all sorts of little people would live happy, comfortable lives; and if I could just find a way to get there, if I could just get close enough to fall into that little world- then I could be happy forever.”
I have to give her credit, it does sound nice. But who thinks of things like that? What kind of person can sit there and make all of this up? I have to say, it would be a very lonesome life just walking around and making up little elaborate worlds that you could never really get into. It's great to think about, but in the end you're always left with disappointment in the fact that you will never be part of those worlds- you're stuck here, on Earth, plain old boring planet Earth, forever.
I sit quietly, contemplating this. I'm not much of a conversationalist, to tell you the truth, I never really say much in situations like this. It's not that I don't have anything to say, just that I can never really come up with the words. So I sit and think quietly.
Before long, my thoughts are interrupted by some weird squealing noise over on the far side of the room. I look over and realize it's the sound of my own mother, gasping for breath between sobs.
“What is it now?” I ask her.
“I had a thought, a very sad thought.”
“Care to elaborate?”
I'm getting tired of her theatrics.
“My thought was this- What happens when the fire goes out?”
I say nothing.
“Did you hear me? Did you hear a word of what I just said?”
“Yes, mother, I did. But I don't see what the big deal is-”
“Of course you don't, people like you never really see anything. Would you like to know the answer to that thought?”
Again, I fail to reply.
“They die,” she cries.
“All those little happy people in those warm little villages, they die. Don't you care?”
She looks at me with wild eyes, like I'm some sort of monster. Certainly, I can't ignore the lump growing in the back of my throat, nor the tears welling in my eyes. This is silly; there are no people in the fire. She's crazy. I'm crazy. I'm crazy, and I'm crying-crying over little imaginary fire-people. She gets up and crosses the room, then lies down on the floor in front of the fire-place, sobbing. I stay on the couch, glued to my seat and sad-sadder than I've ever been. We stay like this for a while, I can't be sure for how long but I can tell you it felt like hours. Then I get up and lay next to her, wrapping myself up in a little ball and pulling her arm over my shoulder. And in this manner, we sleep.
I wake up several hours later to the startling non-sound of early morning silence. The gray light of dawn filters in through the naked, frost bitten widows, and I shiver in the damp. The damp, it's cold in here. Suddenly, the events of last night flash through my head and I have to close my eyes to stop the tears from coming. But this time embarrassment replaces remorse. I always see myself as such a mature and sophisticated young adult that taking part in such childish antics seems wrong. I feel dirty, like I've somehow managed to taint that self image, that illusion of maturity – with innocence.
I roll over and look into the ashes lying dead in the hearth. The survivors form a community of red and dying embers, all huddled up in the center for warmth. I stand. My mother is at my feet, sleeping sound despite the harsh draft and unforgiving floor. I step over her body, careful not to wake her. I then proceed to raise my right foot high over the embers and let it drop into the ashes with all its weight. Repeat. I stamp them out.