Far From the Flame — excerpt

The dull task of packing is often interrupted by memories, events called to mind by the wayfinding sock or book you are deciding whether or not to pack. In and out of these memories I find myself as I place objects in and out of my bag, trying to rummage them into some form of order. I have a belt that some of my college friends once used to tie me suspended to a bunk, the leather is stretched from the weight. I have one shirt that I intend to be buried in. I also use it when I am trying to pick up women. It is good enough to be buried or married in, although it has not yet lived up to its call.

I am packing all my things into two camps. On the right, next to the broken AC unit is my storage pile. Random things I’ve never used, old t-shirts and shoes, books, various electronics outdated in 2 years to the point of antiquity.

On the right, my travel gear. I feel a bit like Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, packing meager supplies for a great adventure. Childish and stupid, it’s how I feel. I hide my giddiness of travel in a familiar frown of responsibility.

I grab a box from the top shelf of a closet that was mostly used as a catchall. The box holds a lifetime of stored items, each with their own bio. Children’s toys, a poem from a girl named Cindy who I don’t remember but who clearly remembered me. A photo of my parents. A paint brush.

The paint brush is my mother’s. She, a wife and mother of seven children, was rarely set upon by idle time. Her life was a rush of hormones, tantrums and sins, and occasionally a glimpse of appreciation, like a drop in a poor man’s bucket of what she really deserved.

I can’t remember how many times my mother painted the house, or how many colors. The egg shell whites, the parmesan yellows, the pop tart pinks. She had as many colors for the rooms as my father did books for a topic. I think it was a way for her to create change in a world where change was always creating her. Like some anchor in her life, painting a room was akin to rebirth. It was renewal, and I think maybe she was trying to paint a new life in a room that was stained with strife, that maybe she was trying to expunge memories and emotions that clouded at the paint like thick hair, or smoke.

Paint won’t cover hate.

What does a woman, who hears no music, think of as she paints an empty room? Is it of the color, bleeding into the older past of the wall, the drippings it makes? The room, empty around her, has breath. Do her thoughts run from corner to corner, with every line of the tape, tracing the architect’s intent? Does she think about the light, striking the wall around her shadow’s form, and how in different ways, different lights will have different plays?

She brushes a hair from the front of her head with the back of her hand. No paint there, to smear another surface that has seen too many years. Do her hands reach too far, making the color slip and spill away from the corner, the point she needs to finish? She doesn’t hear music, but the rhythm she paints to has been broken. She stares at the spot on the floor with an eyebrow matching the doorway, sharp and at an angle.

She hears no music, and so she doesn’t paint. Like the room, she is only another surface, waiting to be purposed.

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