We have been moving house and as part of that process my brother and I had to clear up this wardrobe in our room with all the old papers that signify progress through life. The drawer contained about 5 carton-fulls of paper from primary school through secondary and university. We quickly sorted through them only pausing when we found a photo that brought to mind memories or moments that were long gone, moving is hard and full of nostalgia but that is not what this post is about, it is about fire.
We took the papers out and dumped them in the backyard and a fire was quickly lit underneath them, and me paragon of the outdoors that I am, was left to tend it. At first this meant sitting indoors and going out to make sure that the fire had not spread to the house, then the smoke began to pour out almost overwhelming the flames and this is when I figured out the other part about tending a fire, raking. From the deeps of my mind I recalled someone raking a fire like the way you would leaves, this is done in order to remove the ash that has gathered on top and let the paper underneath burn up. So I began furiously digging the rake into the middle of the fire turning over the papers and being rewarded by added flames shooting up all over the place till the fire got so hot I had to hang back and watch.
Fire is beautiful, it’s powerful and seductive without trying to be. it just does what it does and spreads. It seemed to come from within the paper themselves turning them into ash. I remember seeing this one paper being carried like the fire had a physical presence then the paper would turn black as it ashed and be thrown away like a spurned lover carried by the wind and deposited elsewhere and still the fire spread. Taking over everything only needing my help once in a while and yet too proud to keep accepting it when it regained its former strength.
As I continued to rake it my eyes began to ache both from exposure to heat and smoke that seemed to follow me everywhere. And still the fire spread and I began to pay attention to individual outbursts. This one piece of paper seemed to shelter the fire within it. There was a night in the paper that could only bee seen by the torches that the flame brought to it then the paper decayed from the inside giving way to more and more of the fire until the night had been fought away and all that remained was fire and when just fire remains there is nothing at all. There was this book that seemed to whiten with age right before my eyes, it was grey then white then it just whittled away and was carried by the wind forgotten forever, a disturbing metaphor of life. That book had information and history, it was once valuable enough to be bought, special enough to be used then old enough to be forgotten and all those stages of its life were made nothing as it turned to ash and the wind carried it away bouncing it along without a thought to its past.
And still the fire raged.
I could see why they called them tongues of flame, there was this point where it looked like the fire was licking this book, and the papers turned black as if they really were getting wet (we all know that licking is a sure way of getting things wet- something I learned by putting my mouth in a lot of sticky places). And after they turned black they would then pass on the curse to the next bunch of papers an airborne virus passed on from neighbour to neighbour till there was no more.
At its greatest the fire was a thing to watch. There seemed to be little kingdoms of flame all with their little provinces as they raced to cover more land, the red and clear of the flames was laid out against the papers thrown in and the fireplace or ash compound itself seemed to change shape as time went on. From a neat little circle it became a diamond, stretching itself into this heart shape that had a flame in the middle of it trying to convince the rest to join. Then the wind came along blowing ash everywhere turning it into a long hideous scar and now it lies looking almost like the corpse of a fat man shot in the back with blood flowing out in all directions.
I made sure I beat it to death before I left but even with the fire gone its creation seemed unable to settle, flying everywhere, settling on everything. And the scent of the fire, the smoke clung to every fibre of my clothing. The smell seemed to have taken up residence in my nose and so I took a shower to wash away all the dirt and when I closed my eyes to let the water wash over me I could see the flames as if they had been tattooed on my eyelids.
It rained today and maybe the ash is all gone by now, it gets to me that I’ll never really know.