I hope I havent forgotten anything…
He looked around the quietly rising shadows. Well, if I have, too late now. He firmly closed the living room window and pulled the slightly dusty, heavily embroidered drapes.
Everything was ready. Finally.
He set the kettle on the stove to boil, one last time.
He’d had so very much of it, he thought with a tiny smile. Born in some obscure village in Poland (was it even still there?), a misty, distant childhood among other orphans (if indeed he could call himself that). There was a school… he was sure of that… maybe. And a war: there was always a war. Much of his early adult life was spent fighting in a war that sprawled across the decades and that history no longer noted and now firmly forgot.
Then, after the war, he came home. And he met her.
Dont fall in love, they told him. You can never fall in love. But he ignored them, and he and… what was her name?… had spent two decades together — a love expressed with a pianoforte and a harp and a viola — before he understood why love was impossible for men such as him. So he’d run away, leaving her with a child, whom he watched from a distance: growing up, growing old, dying, while he…
Stop. You only made that mistake once.
Yet once was enough.
Searching for and finding no others of his kind (and perhaps there werent any), he’d come to this land… when?… a long time ago. Having planned his life well, he didnt have to worry about money. He would never have to explain, as long as he kept his distance from them all. He would simply buy some land, far from any other human being, and slowly grow old. He’d traveled a bit, seen lands that he vaguely remembered: China, Greece, Africa… without ever really knowing why he should vaguely remember them. And after a while, he simply stayed in his house, already filled with decades upon decades of memories, doing nothing but waiting for this moment. The small town that had been miles away slowly grew out and around him; the forests had long been destroyed to make way for buildings whose purpose he never understood. He kept firmly to himself so the people of this small-then-suddenly-big town would leave him alone: his taxes were dutifully paid, his groceries were dutifully delivered. No doctor was allowed to visit: if he was sick, he dealt with it on his own, knowing he would survive. No priest either: he’d long passed any crisis of faith and had found his peace with the emptiness.
He clicked on the radio. An orchestra somewhere was playing something by Wagner. Smiling once again at the irony, he slowly shuffled into the musty kitchen and prepared a final cup of tea. Cinnamon, he thought with a quiet smile, cinnamon seems… appropriate. Suddenly, the hiss of the boiling kettle, the chill of the thin china cup, the delicate flavour of the lightly infused water, all of this seemed… important.
He made one last inspection of the house, the heavy patina of dust only slightly disturbed by the piles of cinnamon sticks he’d left on the tables, the chairs, the floors. No myrrh, which was unfortunate: the last time, he’d had myrrh…
The last time? There’d been a last time? He no sooner thought the words than he realized that — of course there was a last time — he’d done this… countless times before. In all those countries he only vaguely remembered, in houses and lives that, like this one, had stayed long past their welcome. It’s time, he sighed, as he took out the match and, closing his eyes, lit it, then gently brushed it against the heavy drapes.
The fire took hold, racing up the windows, whipping across the walls, over the ceiling, down along the channels of the wooden floors, madly dancing its way into the hall, up the stairs, happily skipping past the locked doors guarding long empty bedrooms. Within seconds, the fragile little room was awash in heat and light, and he felt himself moving away.
No. Stop. You cant.
So he stopped — and watched as the fire encircled him, devouring its way into the centuries old furniture that he’d bought when it was new, reducing the ancient books and frail paintings to mere ash. The piano and the harp and the viola suddenly burst into flames, with a brilliance so bright he had to close his eyes. The old radio crashed to the floor, the tubes exploding. The very air transformed, from the stale, thin clouds of dust to… <i>glass</i>. He sat in his old armchair and watched as the world burned away all around him…
Deidre. Her name was Deidre.
There was a crack! He looked up, and the ceiling —
The young fireman picked through the still smoldering ruins. Crazy old coot, he thought. I told him this place was a firetrap. He kicked over what might have been a picture frame. Probably left something on the stove. Idiot.
He turned, ready to leave… when…
“MEDIC!” he shouted into his headset. Following the sound, he tore through the still-glowing wood frame, into what was left of the living room, honing in on the crying coming from underneath all this devastation. He threw the burned out husk of an old chair to one side…
… and found a baby.