The conflagration crackles in the cast-iron fireplace. The tabby lounges on the table, soaking up the radiant warmth from its glow at a safe, unsingeworthy distance. Later he will rise and stretch, his yawn revealing sharp fangs that have never known ferocity before he attacks the bamboo poker with reckless vigor, just less than oblivious of the looming burn risk overhead. It will pop anew as the flame licks previously untouched bark and the feline will scramble away, only to return when the noise has subsided.
There is a man there, too, or a boy perhaps, given his environs and their eerie pseudo-familiarity. Thirty going on thirteen, the reverse of the well-worn axioms of his youthful sagacity. “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” Maybe all the artists age in reverse, Benjamin Buttons in search of infantilism and the birth of all things. As though the roots of creativity were somehow planted in wisdom but only understood in the aged fruition of the wry vigors of taking life less seriously. Alas, he is not an artist now, or yet – only a dreamer.
His hands are waxy with the residue of brown paper sandwich bags, a numbing subtle feel that exaggerates itself once noticed, all but to the point of putting the nimblest brittlest of limbs to sleep. These limbs have touched much today in their quest to keep the house of his parents dry – brooms and cement mix and the drops of cold rain whispering the promise of snow in its harsh icy decline. The fingers have come gloved and ungloved, pocketed and unpocketed, clutched at hair in his face and tissue before it as he navigated the warm-cold-warm-cold confines of a day on winter’s verge. It is the house of his parents he has helped protect against the worst of the dripping leaks around the edges, but it is not the house of his youth or even his upbringing. By the time he was here, he’d already been brought up, already begun the joyful decline into first real childishness.
The sandwich bags are the first step of a worn tradition, one he normally anticipates all year. They are to be filled with sand and a candle each, propped just so at just such a distance on just such a night to light the way for wayward tourists and reborn children in search of their soulful expression of a red-numbered day on the calendar. This whole calendar year has gone red for the man-boy, the red of debt and blood and the ink of insufficient penmanship. Whole months struck from the annum like typographical travesties, or perhaps just awkward sentences, whose denotation could no more warrant full expression than the merely self-describing awk. As though whatever professor were grading this set of days couldn’t be bothered to write in complete words, let alone sentences.
It is not Strunk & White’s manual which now concerns the man-boy, any more than he can fret about the precise length of the lip of each bag as it is folded outward, over, amidst the retribution of wax and the febrile protestations from the glass-faced hothouse. The tabby refuses to settle while the surprisingly boisterous lunchsacks meet their sequential fates, beginning their transformation from would-be tuna-and-Ruffles containers to full-fledged bringers of joy. The triangular ears twitch and start with each new vessel, ultimately finding solace in a clawing and half-biting into the latest foldee, as though perhaps said fish-wich were still to be procured through sheer grit and imagination. His look of affront from being batted away speaks volumes to a sense of cool entitlement that few outside the feline race can express.
Others try, though. They feel deserving of so much, satisfied by so little. The man-boy himself cannot count himself apart from this judgmental generalization, knowing that what he asked proved too much in a scarlet flash-flood of useless days. And now he sits calmly, picking up the pieces as though manifest in each new light brown ex-tree, dexterously processing them in a way his thoughts refuse to bend. He has been down many mental roads these last few days, raised voice and lowered it, cried to the heavens and sobbed to the winds. But not today. Today there is calm and the whispered promise of overnight snow.
He will wait for it, watchful, like a forlorn lover awaiting news he knows may not be good. Staring out the window between foldings like his thirteen-year-old self on a birthday where miraculous frozen water fell from the sky on a beach town three lifetimes past. Like a man who knows the adage but stares at the gas-fired pot all the same. Like a man whose time is long and his road is unseen. From time to time, he tears himself away to converse with his parents, harbingers of his future as all parents are, or to check the retoasting of his jacket and hat for the fateful moment when the sky turns white.
Tarry now. Wait with him a while. Wait to see his smile rise, his cheeks bloom, his eyes crinkle at each edge for a new reason. Look now, for then he will be out the door.