The fire is behind me.
It burns at my back, hot enough to bring to mind the possibility of burns and blisters. I do not run. I walk down the beach, away from it, toward the old fisherman’s pier that is slowly -dependably- falling into the water. I deny the fire’s presence. I will not run.
The whole thing had started innocently enough. Not the fire of course, but the whole pile of a mess that led to it, that built the funeral pyre.
And for what?
Nothing. It’s all back there now, in that heaping confusion of golden flame.
I know what you’ll say. What you’ll think. That I’m entitled, that I got what was coming to me. I knew what I was signing up for. That success was a commodity so alluring I was willing to trade anything to get it.
But the truth is, I loved him.
I loved him and all the things that came with loving him. You want to separate it out, the knowing him and loving him from the benefits of that knowing and loving. You can’t. I won’t let you. Because it all goes together. Like the low tide and the high, separate events that collide and intersect and smash against each other in a fury that is unavoidable.
Could I have avoided it? Him? I guess so. I saw the signs of who he was so early.
When I took his order in that hotel restaurant all those years ago, I knew. Just a steak, rare, and a glass of water. Yes, that’s all.
How odd that simple order was to me, but then, how odd he was. And in case you haven’t realized, oddness can be quite a magnetic thing. It is why people pay buckets of money to dive into this ocean here and see what hides in its shadows. It is why people gravitated to him. To see the show, to make the discovery, to uncover the depths that are knowing him.
He said he loved me. Love. I knew the likelihood of it being true was small, but I drank it down in one drowning gulp. I made it part of me, this love, and decided I would build a life on it. That was, maybe, my first and gravest mistake.
Building a home on that shifting sand. Choosing it over a more solid foundation.
People like to believe that a big mistake will expose itself quickly. But that is only the case if you allow it to be exposed. I made it my business to keep it buried. He kept saying that word -love- and pairing it with his insistent push of my name into the spotlight, and I kept dumping shovel fulls of dirt over the mistake.
The beach is cold tonight. The sand sticks to the bottom of my feet, caking between my toes and clinging to the rough skin of my heels. I instinctively pull away every time a rogue wave makes a move towards me. The water reaches me anyway, foam curving up from behind in the dark, and the snap of its cold jolts me. The fire is so far back now that the heat of it is lost.
Sirens, somewhere, distant, insistent, wreck the peace of the night and overshadow the sea sounds. Then they too are far away.
I know the whole thing was a charade for him. Alright, for me too. I knew that ours was a business arrangement from the start. A silly game for him, a serious one for me. Still, a game for both. And yet, there is, somehow, a grief to this moment. A loss of something I never actually had. A mourning over an empty casket.
He took everything from me and I gave it willingly. So why do I feel -know- that is was still stolen?
Why this sense that I never had a choice at all?
I am at the pier now, pieces of its pilings splintering and falling to the sand under my touch. Stale water drips from the rotting wood and the slightest shafts of moonlight slip through the decay above.
I’ll stop here for a while. There is no rush. I’ll allow myself to look back, but just for a moment.
The blaze is a hazy, amber glow from here. Distance tames it.
It is almost beautiful.
I know what you think. You think I started the fire don’t you?
You’re all the same.