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Fire and Ice

On a clear, icy cold night in December, I find myself standing facing a raging bonfire. It’s the night of the winter solstice, and a group of people in this nowhere town have an annual tradition of a solstice party. Among other things, they set a bonfire and at a certain point in the night, everyone burns something that brought them negativity in the previous year. A few here really believe in the ritual, but for most it simply offers an excuse to get together and party as a distraction from the tedium of life here.

I don’t really fall into either group. I am here to say goodbye. Not to any person in particular, for although I’ve lived here most of my life, I’m a stranger to nearly everyone. No one is going to care that I’m not around tomorrow, except perhaps as a momentary source of the idle gossip that is the lifeblood of small towns.

I can hear people talking and laughing around me, but the din fades slowly to nothing as I stare into the flames that consume and purify. My world contracts to the sight and sound of the fire, the heat beating against the front of my body and the cold at my back, the box and envelope held in my hands, one set of eyes behind me, and millions of stars staring indifferently down upon all.

The flames mesmerize me, and part of me screams to take the few steps forward into them, letting the fire consume me and the memories I hold in my hands and heart. Yes, it will be painful, but purification always is, right?

But a promise holds me rooted to the earth and safely out of reach of the dancing and beckoning flames. I think back to the silent promise I made, on a darker night where the bitter cold was felt more in the heart and mind than on the skin. I vowed to hold fast to his hand in the dark, and together we would eventually find the light. And although the words were never actually spoken, I intend to keep my word or die trying.

I turn away from the fire to where I can feel the traveler’s gaze on me. As my eyes adjust to the dark, I can make out details of the man watching me: a tall man in jeans and dusty boots, dark hair messy from the wind, a silver St. Christopher medallion shining in the firelight. The darkness steals the color from his eyes, but I know they’re a cold green that somehow manages to warm when he looks at me, and I know they can see to the core of me.

And in that frozen heartbeat I can see myself as he sees me: a sometimes fragile woman who refuses to be broken, red and gold hair dancing in the light of the flames. In his eyes I bear a beauty that I’m certain I don’t possess. He sees the cuts and scars I carry both on and under my skin, and they only add to my appeal for him.

I turn back to the fire, the battle raging in my mind finally quiet. I look down at the box in my hands, full of pictures and memories of a life that is gone. All those promises have been fulfilled and once they burn, I will be free to walk away. I toss the box into the flames and watch as they taste my offering and, finding it pleasing, begin to consume. The thin cardboard burns away, and I see the memories spill out of it and begin to char at the edges.

And then I turn away, walking back into the cold to my traveler who stands patiently waiting. He holds my coat out to me, and I slip into it, tying it tight around me against the wind and slipping the envelope I still hold into the inner pocket, close to my heart. He slips his arm around me. I rest my head on his shoulder for a moment, sharing the lingering warmth of the flame with him before we begin to walk out into the cold to wherever the road ahead may lead.

As we go, I glance back at the fire and the people around it. And I find myself thinking that the past is gone, but it doesn’t have to be completely forgotten. I’ll take the lessons I’ve learned, as well as the memories I just can’t let go, and leave the rest to blacken and crumble to ash in the flames as I walk away.

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Copyright © Copyright 2019 tooshy678. Use of this material or any portion thereof without the express written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.

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