I yawn, a tired hand raising itself to my mouth after falling upon the clock beside my bed. The numbers lit on its face create a red glow, glancing off the sharp edges of my jaw, my nose, my forehead. I am a devil in the red light, and it brings a smile to my lips.
Two feet swing themselves over the edge of the mattress, dragging two legs and a body behind them. They descend to the floor, toes touching the cold concrete and wanting to slip back under the sheets.
No, I tell myself. Tonight is the night, and comforts are our weakness.
Loose denim slides over my naked body, a cotton shirt hiding Man’s shame further. Nakedness was our punishment from God, and so we cover it with clothes and lies and denials: we did nothing wrong, we were only taking that which God wrongfully withheld from us.
He was right. We were wrong.
I find myself closing the door behind me, my movements automatic from bedside to curb side. I’ve done this one thousand times, and a thousand more in my dreams.
Booted feet carry me through the streets, electric lamps casting queer shadows all about me as I move. My heart plans my way, but God establishes my steps.
It is twilight, with the moon hiding behind a curtain of cloud and smog, concealed by both God and Man. From the beginning we’ve tried to be like Him, act like Him, think, create, and reign like Him.
But we fall short.
The dull drone of the river steals my attention, another thing polluted by our presence. We built ourselves up around it, mazes of streets and alleyways, blocks of buildings and towers of symbolic decay. Nature still flits about these places: trees confined to pits in the sidewalks, choked by asphalt and exhaust; weeds springing through every available crack, downtrodden by feet and wheels; gulls hoping from perch to perch, finding spikes in the way of their sanctuaries.
They are all silent now. The trees can’t rustle in the lack of wind, the weeds are wet and don’t crackle under my feet, the gulls are sleeping in their nests, hidden from humanity.
But the river is still pure, loud amidst the silence surrounding it. Its speed is its only salvation from the enclutterment of flot- and jetsam: the river carries it all away, and so it shall carry us away.
A second smile crests my lips, though it is absent of the red glow of my clock’s numerals.
I make my way down to that river, down to the stony banks where the water can lap at my feet. My shoes come off, and my first step onto the slick stones sends shivers of cold up my legs, toes tingling with a cool that runs deeper than that of the concrete they’d encountered earlier.
Now, I wait.
Man is not patient, but God, who is, has been, and always will be, stands strong beside me.
And so God watches with me as the explosion rips through the black canvas of the city, the orange-yellow light playing off our collective features, lighting the third smile to crack its way across my stony façade.
Small motes of flame rain down at the edges of the fiery cloud: red, orange, and yellow stars falling from the sky. I make my wish, and hope that God will make it true. My eyes follow their smoky trails to the water, the flames melting into mirrors of themselves upon the glassy surface of the water.
Some flash out, lives lost to the river, tossed and taken to be seen never again. Others alight on its surface, silent amid the screams and shouts and sirens. Their passage is quick, carried by the currents of the river, and the specks soon wash past me. They are bits of wood caught in the grip of water, wind, and fire, encompassing all the elements at once; bits of plastic are among them, their stench marking the decay of their artifice; other shapes float by, some alight and some mere darkened patches flowing on the dark waters.
Something bumps against my ankle, drawing my eyes down from the carnage upstream. It is a small stuffed bear, one eye missing and an ear eaten by flame and blackened. I pick it up, holding it in my hands, the water dripping from it like streaming tears.
I throw it back to the river in anger, unable to behold the single black button eye any longer.
Another thump caresses my ankle, another warm presence announcing itself at my bare feet.
This time it is a book, the words unrecognizable because of the embers that sizzle across the pages. I can see, though, one single phrase, clear at the top on one page:
A child’s scrawl, with the e turned backwards.
I don’t pick it up like I did the bear, but take a few steps back, out of the river. Its hindrance gone, the diary floats after the bear, joining once more the other objects: humanity carried away by the river.
I know then that God is not with me. I stand as a solitary man, shedding a solitary tear.
And so I stand here, alone midst the carnage, wondering how this tragedy could ever have happened and how I ever became a part of it.
Now as the ashes smolder and the first light of sunrise begins to make itself known, I can hear once more the call of the gulls as they clamor for another day of life.