Burnt Offering

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Learning to let go has its price.

Submitted: November 26, 2010

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Submitted: November 26, 2010



12:00. Midnight. And his voice would not be heard again.

It’s time to be done, she thought. This has gone on long enough, and I’m not interested in what might’ve been or what needs to be. It has to go. Paroxysms of guilt or not.

She gathered his things in the slightly yellow light cast by the antique lamp on her desk, its long-tarnished crystals dully attempting glints in the warm-feeling light, no match for the crystalline tears in her eyes, on her cheeks. Tears borne of the constant gnashing of snaggled teeth over a year or so, her heart in the grasp of the vicious, unforgiving beast. All those years’ worth of memories, paper and worn cloth, carried from one corner of the world to the other. From one corner of their hearts to the other, hewing roads that led to nowhere.

Walking out into the frost-hardened night, she found the air breaking and cracking around her warm form under the stars, but she hardly felt it.

He looked up at her from his side of the bed, blue eyes on blue sheets blazing. It was too early for the kids to be awake, too early for anything but the summer sun’s persistent picking through the half-pulled blinds. She’d been wondering at his sleeping form for several minutes, amazed that they were so lucky and so fulfilled. He registered the familiar look in her eyes and smiled his broad, welcoming smile. That smile she’d fallen in love with.

He reached for her groggily, pulling her into a soft and complete embrace under the comforters of their bed, in the morning sun. Small kisses peppered on her neck, the prickles pulling and twisting somewhere far lower and deeper. Tugging at her body in sweet ways, as his kisses always did.

“I love you,” he whispered into her neck.

The frigid air whipped around her face and through her hair, teasing gooseflesh from smooth skin to play in the chilly dark. She walked without a coat but with purpose draped around her shoulders, carrying her bundle to the highest point she could readily find. In the dancing wind even the stars seemed to swirl, twirling and winking infinitely above the tiny young woman and her insignificant pile.

Dropping to her knees in the grass, she spread the limited effects before her. A letter, desperately desired and sent over long distances. A small and age-blackened rosebud, dried and crumbling from her grip. His shirt that she carried across three continents, pulling it close to her breast each night and breathing deeply his thick scent. She raised it deliberately, as one saying a final goodbye to a close friend, and inhaled his fragrant ghost.

In the sun-bathed morning, they found time to caress the quietest parts of one another. Stroking and pulling, kissing and cuddling, as only the oldest of lovers can. They spent several blissful minutes reveling in the corporal pleasure of being near to one another before she finally pulled him onto her, seeking the warmth and closeness only one thing could bring. As she had done a thousand times before, she lifted her hips and guided him to her warmth and wetness. They gasped together at their sudden merging, and moved slowly to the synchronous beating of their hearts as the sunlight crept across the floor to its merging with the wall.

Darkness nearly overpowering her, she gathered all those sweetly aching messages from a previous life into a messy, careless pile. A siren sounded far away, its wail mournfully wafting in the wind playing in her ears and burning her eyes. The persistent tears blurring her vision, she pulled up whole coarse handfulls of dried grass around the memories, each new clump tearing greedily into her palms and fingertips. In the barely glowing moonlight, she could not see the bloody abrasions they wrought on her freezing hands.

A sufficient circle cleared and the dry kindling arranged on the pile, she dug into her pocket.

Wide-eyed, he pulled her so close that they seemed to melt into one as they groaned their quiet release. They lingered for several luxurious minutes, and she wished that they would never have to part from this so-close position. But less than sixty seconds after their muffled and intense blending, the baby began to cry on the monitor. Their secret moment over and their bond renewed, he pulled away and stumbled down the hall to retrieve her.

She wiped her running nose on her sleeve, angry that the tears had followed the tributaries from her eyes. She felt she should have something, anything to say. All those years, all that hurt, all those days since he was gone...she had nothing. No upwelling of the soul escaped her mouth. No sudden starlit inspiration struck her.

She struck the match.

Their tiny, precious child in his arms, he returned to their marriage bed. Cooing without real words, they tried to comfort her and to cease her insistent crying. Each touch brought a louder wail. She’d never been like this before. He looked at her, worry etching his face.

“What if something’s wrong?” he asked, his voice quavering with the love of his wife and his only child. She shook her head and pulled the three of them into a family embrace, radiating love and calm. The room began to fill with smoke.

She stood and watched the memories burn, slowly at first and then with increasing ferocity until the stars disappeared in the flames’ light. The field was alight with dancing shadows and she stared at her silhouette, distorted in the orange glow.

They stood up suddenly, their room rapidly growing dark in the smoke. The sunlight blotted out in the window and their vision fading, they ran toward the door. The stairs loomed ahead of them as suddenly flames engulfed the roof, the bed, the hall. They struggled toward the escape of the front door.

The last thing to catch fire was his letter, the words bleeding together as the paper curled in a spasm. The tears were dried in her eyes.

Halfway down the stairs, he stumbled. Their baby in his arms, he pitched head-first down the stairs, her scream drowned in the gasping inhalation of the inferno.

He lay still at the bottom of the stairs, intact in appearance except for a bloodied temple. The child screeched in his arms, a look of horror on her tiny face. She walked in dizzied motion to his side. She shook him, calling out his name.

“ Come on, love! We have to get out of here!”

The baby quieted, and seemed to sleep in the intense heat. She felt incredible tiredness overcome her, a heaviness in her lungs pulling her away from the door and escape. Dropping to her knees on the floor, she caressed the forms in front of her. She just wanted to lay by their sides, to bask in their love and warmth as a family. She cuddled up to her silent husband, pulling his arm over her and cuddling her child to her breast.

The roof came crashing down in a deafening burst of embers.

The fire coughed, spat, and burst brighter. An ember flying from the fray hit her in the neck, and she swore and turned away. Walking away from the smoldering pit, she felt the biting cold for the first time.

© Copyright 2018 Coleen Monroe. All rights reserved.

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