This was just a random late night writing session I had a few years back, and I've worked on it off and on for a bit. I know it says to post a chapter, so I guess this fits the format. All in all, it's about a man and a woman in their later years, from the perspective of the man. I can't really describe it, but I guess its almost a last love letter.
It should be darker now we'd say, but we knew it to be otherwise. Somewhere far away dogs barked at the cold and whined for their frozen water. The air faded from our mouths like the ghosts of friends, the ones we lost and the ones we never had. It was old then, I believe that nothing ever was until I lived, and it aged with me, and when I died, so did the world. What a terrible thing you'd remark, and I could not say a word.
The morning sun barely lit our way but reminded us of the warmth that would come in time. We'd left early that morning, a pack of cigarettes, a comb, and a flask filled with well water; our holy belongings. My clothes hung in places that were no longer easy to gaze upon, and I now preferred the colors that drew little attention. I never had your beauty though. There was a calm about you, a courtesy to the ones who knew no better. How I ever convinced you to love me I will never learn, but I'd ask and you'd say because we had the same soul.
It was rare to have seen you like that. The cold held you higher to the light than the summertime. You were fragile, resilient, finite. Beautiful. My beard had grown as long as I dared, for fear you'd wake to find a madman, and my hair was brittle from the winter, but you'd run your fingers through it and wake some ancient dying forest. Our eyes were tired from the things we'd seen in our dreams and in each other.
I often dreamt of that wall of fire in my later years. I told you of it often. I woke in the basement of my grandmother's house, and walked outside, looking to the field that fell into a hill. And there, behind the first row of slim baby pines, that wall of fire stood. It never moved, but remained in stasis, as if the heat of the sun yielded no warmth or light, but only fear. The world had cracked. It had changed in a way that was unknowable, it burned from the outside, and I gazed upon smolder praying for ignition so that it may exist again, if only to destroy and nothing else. The pines never caught, but cast their shadows onto the dying grain and weeds, and I heard them cry, Take no more, for you have taken everything. I asked to give it back, and only heard them weep. And as I stepped back, for now the heat decided to come for me, I knew that what stood behind me was the worst thing I could imagine. If I turned to meet it, if I had the courage, the world would not give up on me, would forgive me. But I was too weak, and the earth succumbed to the fire. I'd often have trouble describing it to you, and you'd only wait and listen while I fumbled with my words. You'd know when I dreamed that dream, you said that you could see it on my body, that I looked like a boy, ready but scared to die. I am afraid to die.
I see things when I close my eyes and understand that what I knew to be real is now forgotten and the world won't help me remember. Or that the world remembers, and hasn't the heart to show me. I don't think I want to know, my memories are coal that burnt too long, and no amount of fire will ignite them again. They have lost me, and returned to whatever state a forgotten memory can return to, and I continue on now. There are things I don't know about you anymore, and I fear to ask. But the things we experienced, whether intentional or sought after in slumber, have been and will always be, graciously written on the ground we walk upon.
When our daughter was born, I had thought that I understood the ways of life, and I learned that I did. She was beautiful in ways that I cannot fathom. Often I looked upon her sleeping in the last few days before she died and wondered what God wanted from us. To give us something so wonderful, and to take it away one day. The morning I found her, the day was cold and I looked out of my window and saw a black bear walking away from our home. The bear lumbered forward and stopped. Lifting its head, it gazed upon the beehive that hung in the tree next to our well. It stood there for a long time, never moving, only watching. The bear turned and looked back at me, and walked on. I rose from the bed and walked into her room, to wake her and tell her the things I saw. She did not wake for me, and I knew then that God had made a decision and would never explain himself. And I hated him for it, and will always hate him for it. Your brother had said she was in a better place, to trust in God's plan. I hit him. Who does God pray to, I asked. You cried even more, and swore not to speak to me. Later, I understood what he had meant to say, even if he didn't know it. We will always be left alone in this cold, but embers remain deep in the soot, praying to be stoked if only to light our eyes.
My grandfather had said the smell of burning wood lingered on us, that your laugh would be the crackle of bark and my heart was the warmth on a cold man's hands. It was so long ago, we were still almost kids. He was a man that few could imagine, a steadfast creation of a time when life was not as valuable or primarily amazing. He'd often tell us stories of times when the world was familiar only to memory, of his father, the farm that raised him, and the life that only he knew. I imagine that I know what he felt, to gaze upon the earth with eyes on borrowed time. To see creation that is rushing, mutating, forming into patterns and structures incomprehensible to the passing of time. If God is so old, why are we so lost? Why must this forest remain so dark?
Did we leave the comfort of home to die out there? I'd never know why I'd think such a thing, but often times I would. Those early mornings. You'd tell me why we did it, I'd always forget. Forgetting made the lie settle without disturbance, kept me blind, and continued to move my feet long after I knew they shouldn't. Sometimes I lied to you not because I wanted to keep the truth from you, but if only to give what was deserved but could not be provided. There was little to give without staining the meaning, so instead I stained my soul. Ants admiring birds, as they wallow in dirt.
We found an old car in the woods one day, not far from home. The trees had claimed it and the weeds, knee deep, held it like a baby. The paint had rusted off but a few chips stood their ground. You opened the passenger door and we decided the car was a crypt on account of the animal bones. We didn't go back again.
We walked all over those woods, picking up sticks and kicking pine cones. We'd head back when the air got warm and hear the church bells from down the road. Scolded we were for never going. For me, God never resided in the church. You could feel him in those woods though, and I knew he lived there. Little was to be learned behind the doors and walls of the congregation, and having no patience and removed interest, I often found myself leaving as the Spirit entered. You would carry a cross and I asked you once if you believed, you told me fools believe. I was confused, and you said you just knew, and that was good enough.
It was quiet in those twilight days. Beneath the boards ran the veins of our hopes and memories, slowly drying and cracking as we forgot the things we once wanted and never obtained. We had no tv, nor radio. It was an ugly thing, what we had grown up seeing. And I am fortunate enough to know someone who's heart also hurt when gazing into things that were not our business. We often got catalogs and credit offers, and those were good for starting the fire. We had checkers and books, and the value of conversation. It was the worlds way of tucking us in, I think. Don't look, the earth would say, at what I've become.
I'd look out the window some days and swear it looked back at me. The earth talked to me, I'd say to you. You asked what it said. Cold mornings, I'd reply. Nothing truly ever spoke, I am not so foolish or senile to believe it, but what else could it say? No longer could it promise any verification of the aspirations of a man not so young. So it warned me, the perch is crumbling.
We walked further than normal that morning. My cough had gotten worse and I brushed away any concern you had for that. We came to a clearing at the edge of the woods and found an old camp site. The fire pit had long burnt out, but I knew I'd been there before. Or was going to be there. We kept walking a ways and from the top of a grey and old hill, saw the light break within the limbs of oak tree. Sprouts beneath the tree still curled up likes pups near their mother. Shh, she'd say. Your hand touched mine, not to hold or to comfort, but to reassure, that the days would come when hill would grow barren and the sky would only shed its cold skin, but not today. Today, when lost men soak their prayers in shallow ponds and they forget that tomorrow watches from their shoulders, all will remain in its moment and disregard the future.
The beauty we'd found that morning was with me as I laid in bed and your tears dampened the pillow. You never spoke but listened to the things I'd say. I talked about the old camp site often, the circle of logs and the muddied ash. I'd say it was never your fault but that an old man had done what he could. I don't know if you ever believed me. I wished you would. I told you of the tree we saw and felt your smile on my shoulder. My heart shuddered when I thought of never feeling it again, but I prayed you didn't notice.
The candle beside the bed burned down until only a puddle of white wax dripped to the floor. The moon, jealous of his brother, showered us in the cold white glow as I watched your red, wet eyes drift slowly off. I kissed your forehead and looked out of the window and saw the still night filled with that same hanging light. Cold mornings, it said to me. I looked back to you and pulled the covers up and held your shaking body. Closing my eyes, I could see the sprouts open beneath the tree, basking in the slow warmth of the old sun. I heard her sigh as they whimpered and her roots spread further and further, gathering and encompassing all that lay before her dominion. She was weary, as all nature becomes, and the pups began the cycle anew, robbing her of the life she had robbed another of, and all was right and just. To remain is to never be, she knew, and so she settled, and let the earth conspire on her behalf. Virtue cradled in the absence of sentience, beauty and order that man can never obtain, and yet she would still dream. For the earth cannot rob her of that, and she looked to what had always flourished before her and never diminished her existence. And all the while she could never know the name nor the reason, but give herself over to the enigma that filled her thoughts. The soil was her truth, the sky her mystery.