Sunday, November 3, 2013
Five knocks that Sunday morning. When I opened the door, there was just a porous cloud of grey right where she should have been standing. No doubt it was her, or what was left of her, an unstable mass of shape-shifting smoke and dust. She owned the voice that said my name, I was sure. I stepped out, looked around, and returned. “Come in, Aubrey,” I said. I led her to the sofa.
“How are you?” it said.
“Grand,” I said, trying to convince myself.
“Do you want anything to drink?”
Before reaching the kitchen door, I looked behind. She was there, or it was there, seated. Sitting still. As still as a resolute leaf clinging on to a twig for dear life, praying that no breeze, gentle though as a whisper, would pluck it with finality from its stalk and deliver it to the earth, never to taste the sun again. She was there, or it was there, seated. A shadow against the light.
“I took my time, Aubrey. One day after another. It took a long while for me to confess how I truly felt for Roxanne. Gradually, ever so calculating, like a novel slowly bleeding out of a pen, word after word.” I sighed. “Something along those lines.”
The ice cubes clinked as the glass of water stood in the sunlight pouring from the window.
“Clearly, she’s not the waiting-type,” the shadow said. “Patience is not her best virtue. You should have told her the first day you met her.”
“You should have tried harder.”
“I did but - ”
“No,” it said, darting little streams of dust toward the ceiling. “I was there. I saw everything.”
“Oh.” Then I thought I saw Aubrey slowly shake her head.
Almost everything was aflame. A section of the roof collapsed, sending a momentary explosion of red and yellow sparks across the room, like jets of fireflies indiscriminately latching themselves onto anything combustible. I stepped farther back until my torso was against the warm wall, and it felt as though I was trapped in an infernal ring turning smaller with the certainty of truth. There was nowhere to go. I looked up and gazed at the midnight sky circumscribed by the edges of the remaining parts of the ceiling, like a yawning mouth that swallowed the stars.
The sirens squealed closer. Moments later, it began to rain. The water smelled rusty, and as I began to kneel on the floor someone broke the door from outside. A firefighter. Somehow I was ready to die, but the stranger, the intruder garbed in a bunker gear wouldn’t let the fire have its way.
When we were finally in the safety of the roadside, I thanked my savior. The firefighter removed his helmet and said “Just doing my job,” and I saw that he was a she and that her hair rolled down to her shoulders and she smiled and I smiled and at the end of it all I told her I like you miss.
That was how I met Roxanne.
“You wanted to kill me,” I said.
“No.” Aubrey stood, floated to the door. “I wanted you to meet Roxanne. So that you may live again.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
But she disappeared without saying anything further.
“You cannot move-on if all you do is move around in one place,” Aubrey told me once, to which she added, “I want to break your heart someday.” The day she said it, her smile was beautiful, her eyes more so. But that was a long time ago. Yet to this day I remember her, several years after her second visit. Because memories are flames burning inside us, giving us the warmth we deserve until someone comes in and waters the fire down. Sometimes at the behest of a shadow. Or of a restless wisp of smoke. Or even of fire itself.
But some fires do not die easily. For it is in their nature, a curse perhaps, to remain as massive as when they began, they seek refuge in the comfort of distance, a ploy to muffle the sheer brightness and warmth they offer, both of which are more than enough to extend succor to the coldest of hearts. It is in this sense that VY Canis Majoris stands out as a prominent case. It is a star, a red hypergiant where more than a million suns could easily fit. But it is almost four thousand light-years away from the Earth, making it virtually invisible to the naked eye. Yet it is not truly invisible. It is there, only a little too far. For its size unparalleled, it floats in the nether regions of absolute nothingness. Like a love that, though immeasurable, positions itself in the corner-most pocket so that no searching eyes will ever find it again. Certainly no one.
Not a savior to return it to where it rightfully belongs. Not a firefighter to hose it down to cinders. And when all else fails, it can try to become just another ball of flame undoing itself so that, for the last time, it can turn into smoke and blend with the darkness like a shadow.