Smoke Defines Light: A Fiction with Tarot Readings by Jane Nelson by Craig Gholson

BOMB 12 Spring 1985
012 Spring Summer 1985
Sarah Wells 001

Sarah Wells, Untitled, cyanotype with watercolor, 1985, 13 × 13 inches.

His end begins here.

What remains of what was once a building but is now an empty lot is a charred grid on the brick wall of building still standing. Smoke-stained silhouettes, ghostly outlines of windows, doors, fireplaces, the skeletal remains of rooms that once were but are now only edges of chipped plaster and crumbled baseboard.

In the lot below on the pavement, she looks up seeking his presence in that absence of mortar and lathe.

Reading I: The Structure Itself

Concerning this building, something crazy was going on. There was something happening there that was not right. I have a feeling that the people in the building might have done something without being knowledgeable to do it. For instance, if the building collapsed, maybe they moved some structural things. They shouldn’t have broken down walls that were there for structural reasons. It’s very possible that it wasn’t being taken care of. It seems that it was known that some things had to be done to it. It was known in the back of their minds and in some way the people knew what had to be done with this building. But, it wasn’t done. The balances were not right. Things were not seen with a vision of the future. It was done in a very small, closed way without looking into the future or as to what it would do. It seems that in the combination of things, things were just completely out of control and going in all different ways. There was no control and as things were going in so many different ways concerning the people who lived in the building and the building itself, the direction that it goes in is that it just totally separates and breaks up.

Marianna stands outside on the steps, a grocery bag propped against her hip, her hand aiming a key at the front door. Harris, inside, walks down the hall towards the front door watching as the key enters the lock and the bag falls.

“Jesus,” she’s saying looking down the steps as he opens the door. He looks past her at shards of glass and paraffin scattered across the stoop. Marianna looks up at the witness to the fall and giggles. “Not a good omen, do you think?”

“What?”

“Well, these were votive candles and it just doesn’t seem like such a hot sign that …”

Marianna squats down, picking through glass splinters, wax lumps. Holding out a yellow piece of candle with a portion of a decal still attached to the glass, she says, “Look. San Lazaro, patron of the poor.”

Harris can make out a portion of a leper’s leg with a dog’s muzzle seemingly nipping at the leper’s knee.

“The Miraculous Mother,” she says. “Blue. La Virgen Milagrosa. I don’t think anything good’s going to come out of this.”

Picking up the largest chunk intact, Marianna begins reading the Oración de Nuestra Señora Del Cannen. “Oh Virgen del Carmen! Quien con especial bondad y misericordia consideras a los que tienen devocion en …”

“The primary colors,” Harris interrupts.

“What?”

“That’s a red candle. Red, yellow there, blue. You’ve got the primary colors.”

“Right, right,” she says surveying the steps again. “What do you think that means?”

“That the candles broke?”

“That I bought all primary colors.”

“I don’t know,” Harris said looking around anxiously. “Listen, let’s get this cleaned up before La Señora Velázquez …” Harris stopped as one of his furtive looks framed a bit of Chantilly lace poised underneath him on one of the steps coming out from the basement level. Harris silently raised his hand, pointing downward with his index finger, jabbing. But by now, the target, from his point of view a shoe-polish black lacquered chignon mounted on a mantilla doily had levitated up the steps like some weird Spanish UFO, its soft shell starched hard and powered by perfume.

“Señora,” they both said.

Señora Velázquez looked at Harris, looked at Marianna, looked at the debris and let loose with the unabridged Spanish lexicon, curses to novenas.

“¿Santa Maria Madre de Dios, que ha pasado aqui? ¡Que basura! Y la escalera esta toda regada de este sucio. ¿Y quien va a limpiar esto?”

Harris was as certain the Oración de la Señora Velázquez was instigated by the globs and shards that littered the steps as Marianna was that the Senora’s inspiration came from the desecrated images.

The building in which both Harris and Marianna had apartments was owned by Señora Velázquez, a legacy from her presumably deceased husband. Owned, and ruled, as such. The señora didn’t say much, being more prone to throwing daggers, but what she did say was in Spanish, high-pitched and highly flammable. Having her as a landlady provided a direct link to the Spanish Inquisition. Immaculata Velázquez had graduated summa cum laude from the Francisco Franco School of Apartment Management.

“Take it easy,” Harris said. “No se preocupe,” he struggled in Spanish, scraping the steps with a soiled Celia Cruz album cover retrieved from the garbage as Marianna used the front section of El Diario to catch the dirty mess of glass and wax.

“Mira,” Marianna said. “Clean. Spotlesso.”

“Smile,” Harris advised. “And leave. Quickly.”

The senora’s hands remained on her hips, the storm warnings having waned momentarily brewing again.

“Gee, thanks,” Marianna called back, running into the building for cover.

“Sure thing,” Harris said. “Wait. Look.”

From underneath the overhang of a step he picked up one completely intact votive candle, white, St. Anthony.

“Well, what do you know,” Marianna said.

“Here.”

Harris to Marianna, St. Anthony tumbled wick over base, pitch to catch.

“All right,” she whooped.

“Alright,” he said.

 

Alexander was sitting by the window in the darkened apartment when Marianna entered. Light from the hall diagonaled across his seated figure, splicing into the natural light coming through the window. At that juncture, Marianna thought he looked like an icon, something or someone comfortable looking out from dark corners. Even in the daytime, Alexander was looking out for the night.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hello.”

Things fell away from Marianna. She let them drop and went over to Alexander, kneeling by his side, her hand combing his hair.

“I didn’t hear you this morning,” he said. “What time did you leave?”

“People always hold it over you if you get up earlier than they do.”

Alexander laughed. He was a playwright. He wrote plays. At first he wrote them enthusiastically, easily and to much verbal response and encouragement. Next, he wrote them solidly, professionally, to some physical response, encouragement in the form of showcases and even small productions. Now, he wasn’t writing. They all were waiting for the next stage. Alexander waited, too.

Alexander’s potential was mythical. Friends, acquaintances, lovers, relatives, strangers all recognized it. But after so long, his potential had gone unrealized, unrealized not so much by the world but in some unknown way only not known to himself. His potential was now something of a curse. No longer new, no longer stale, not having dried up, his promise just stayed within him, diminishing him by a presence that merely presided, presiding undiagnosed.

“What were you sitting staring at there?” she asked him, pointing at the window.

“I was staring at the light. I was trying to stare long enough that I couldn’t see anything anymore. Trying to stare at light so long it becomes darkness, or blackness, or the equivalent. I was trying to work out this equation where light equals the silence of possibility.”

“Cheery.” Marianna laughed. Alexander didn’t.

Alexander’s was a handsome face pinched by alcohol and drugs, sadness. He had, she thought romantically reached the tunnel at the end of the light. He was hard to know and easy to love. Or, at least, intriguing to love. Marianna liked a high degree of difficulty.

She got up off her knees and began picking up the things she had dropped.

“Look.” Marianna was holding St. Anthony, the candle, towards Alexander. “Alex, look. I had a whole bunch of these. One of every kind, almost. But the bag dropped and they all broke except this one. I don’t think that’s a good sign, do you? Them breaking.”

“Marianna, don’t load random accidents with a random mysticism.”

“I don’t load them. I unload them. A random accident? You mean my accident could have been planned?”

“I just think you’re taking this crucifix, worry beads, lingerie-look too far. Ever since you styled that …”

“You mean ‘The Supernatural Is Simply Super’ shoot?”

“Yeah.”

She laughed. “Not much of a concept, huh?”

“Well, not in those terms. No.” He laughed. “But I guess for a fashion layout …”

“I think it’s fun.”

“I think you’re spending too much time in Botanicas.”

For Alexander, how badly he wanted something was in direct proportion to how badly he acted.

“Come here,” he said.

 

Reading II: The Direction

This is the direction it’s going in. This is a combination of everything. This is also the advice and the result of the advice. So, he’s at a standstill. Nothing is happening for him. Nothing is moving the way he wants or any way at all. He doesn’t know what his point of view is. This is one of the most stagnant layouts I’ve ever seen. There’s no movable energy at all. There’s no mixture. Nothing is moving. When these cards are upside right there’s lots of growth and prosperity, growth internally and externally. But as it is now, upside down, he is in a state of real darkness where nothing is growing. Nothing can grow. He’s stuck in this state, not depression, but darkness where there is no growth. There is no sun for him. And this, as it is upside down also can be the levels that are together, but it’s also the different parts of you—when you combine your emotions, your creative parts, and your intellectual parts and put it all together. Or just the different parts of you—your love, your hate, your masculine aspects, your feminine aspects. You put it together to make a whole, and to be the perfect integration of the different parts of yourself. Upside down, it’s very separated. All of you is not coming together. The different parts of you are just not coming together at all. If it’s with other people, as you can take it with this, there’s no unity with himself or with other people.

Marianna knew this question always caused problems: “Did you work today?”

She asked it anyway.

“If you mean did I actually type, no, I didn’t work today. But if you mean …”

Marianna asked this question of Alexander because no matter how great Alexander’s resistance to it, the question usually had the power of making Alexander work, or at least type. In fact, Marianna had noticed, the greater his resistance to the question, the quicker and fiercer he began working. So she asked it. Marianna knew Alexander very little very well.

“… did I think about my work, which is part of the primary process, yes, I did work.”

“What were you thinking about?”

“A technical thing, really—how smoke defines light. If you have a solitary beam of light what you see is the light in the puddle it lands in, the ellipse on the ground, or stage, wherever. And you also have some vague sense of the direction the light comes from, some source somewhere. But all it takes to refine the shaft of the light and pinpoint the source is smoke. A haze of some sort. Even in light, smoke will locate where light comes from—sun, light bulb, the flame of a candle. And the more smoke there is, the stronger the definition becomes.”

Marianna had the thought that although Alexander was making sense, he was increasingly losing his ability to distinguish between things even as he was distinguishing them; the differences, say, between fire and light, hatred and anger, wound and hurt.

“That’s spookier than any Botanica to me,” she said.

Alexander picked St. Anthony up off the floor, lit him, and put the lighted candle into the light from the window, studying the difference in lights.

“I’ve got to get back to work, Alex,” Marianna said. Marianna wanted out. Right now she wanted out of this door and out of all the rest of the doors in their life together. “Why don’t you do some typing this afternoon?”

“You mean work?” he said.

She had been waiting to tell him she wanted out for some time now. “I’ll be back for dinner.”

Alexander already knew Marianna wanted out. That she should seemingly be the one with all the options while he would be the one who would choose, that was to be his revenge. “A choice that doesn’t exclude you but a choice that doesn’t include you either,” he thought. And at this point in Alexander’s life, the proof of the worth of the choice was that its cost could be no less than everything.

“Once you’ve lit the candle, it has to burn without stopping, until the end,” Marianna called to Alexander from the door as he reached out, pinching the wick between thumb and forefinger.

 

Reading III: The Result of the Advice

She’s at a point where she’s being reborn and everything is very good for her. Concerning him, she knows that he’s about to explode, to totally explode. But it seems at the moment they get along. The combination of everything is that he satisfies a certain need for her. The direction that it goes in, I’d say, is that she has the knowledge of what his potential is, what he can do. The advice is to not express her point of view because she wants to remain the lover. She knows there’s violence, but she learns something from him through this situation. She has a knowledge of what he could do, but she doesn’t express her point of view as to what she thinks can happen. She knows that there’s this very destructive, violent quality within him, but she doesn’t express her point of view and decides to keep him as a lover.

Alexander sits at his desk, doing nothing, facing his typewriter where he confronts the only faith he has ever known: the faith of the empty page, the blank life, the faith that in the unfolding of something he can’t seem to see through, something will be revealed.

Alexander sits and waits. He takes out paper, rolls it into the typewriter, and begins where he always begins: with an attempt to see a visible form in an invisible form, with an attempt to see in an invisible form visible form.

After sitting and waiting, Alexander pulls the blank page from the typewriter, wads it up, lets it lay on the desk for a while, then strikes a match igniting the page. He picks the page up by an unlit corner lobbing it back into the apartment. Arcing through the air, the fireball lands in the center of the bed and spreads outward like something poured onto a flat surface.

As it spreads the reason Alexander thinks of to set the already set fire comes: that he needs something to keep him busy on his fall downward, on his fall downward from the unmentionable to the unnameable to the unknowable. That reason is the reasoning of the blank page.

 

Reading IV: The Person Who Set the Fire

He is at a point of such standstill that nothing is moving. Because nothing is moving, he is going to burn the building down. Because nothing else is happening. He can’t do anything right. Anything he tries, he doesn’t put the right things together. Anytime he tries to make money, he doesn’t make money. Nothing is going in the direction he wants and he can’t see that it’s him that’s not putting it together. It’s someone without any point of view. Someone who sits there, doesn’t do anything, therefore nothing happens. And he feels really separated or he separates from other people because nothing is happening. But he hasn’t instigated anything to happen anyway. If you don’t try to do it then it doesn’t happen. He’s not doing what he should be doing, so making this fire is not a work of art. It’s not a creative endeavor. It’s not putting the things together that should be put together to make something. As it is now, he doesn’t grow from this. It’s a situation of no growth, nothing coming from it. The combination of everything figures separation within himself and separation from other people.

Marianna had always been interested in an asymmetrical life, a life cut on the bias, pattern on opposing pattern, a life of combustible relationships, the occasional crash-and-burn romance. So, Marianna was interested in Alexander. Their dependency on one another was deep and strong, ranging from love to laundry. But lately, Marianna had found that her laundry just wasn’t getting done. Alexander’s either, she suspected.

Marianna was a fashion stylist. She worked with photographers and editors on layouts in magazines and advertisements, arranging and rearranging non-essentials to create something essential and specific. Generally, it was the clothes that was the given, but hair and makeup, brooches and belts, collars and sleeves, sets, locations, lights, and lighting, all things stylish were endlessly variable. Marianna was good at it, serious about it, enjoyed it, and was getting better.

But, Alexander had lately taken to calling her “fashionable,” accusing her, actually. He accused her of being too deeply involved in superficials; clothes and hair, fashion and looks. He called her state of being “garmental,” i.e. nuts about clothes. The truth was that he took longer to dress than she did and looked worse for it and then didn’t go out. Marianna was interested in look not looks. She was interested in little touches, the telling detail, what is more commonly, and Marianna thought inaccurately, referred to as an “accessory.”

Styling was a job correctly named. Styling was styling. It was a job that was hard to do and easy to make fun of, as Alexander had started to do. But Alexander’s word grenades had only made Marianna realize that happy people don’t have the desire to hurt other people. A happy person simply does not have the need to try to make someone else miserable, Marianna thought.

Marianna’s assignment that day was an easy one and close to home. She had gone to the Supreme Macaroni Company, Manganero Groceria and DiStasi Fettucini, all Italian specialty stores along Ninth Avenue in the lower reaches of Hell’s Kitchen. Her assignment was to buy different sizes, shapes and colors of pasta to make mock jewelry to be used in a spread on Italian designers. In the process she had bought enough noodles to have dinner.

Noodles, candles. She thought it was funny the manner in which she brought work home from the office. As she rounded the corner from Ninth Avenue to 37th Street, Marianna saw that down the street a building seemed to be on fire. Marianna saw a building on her street on fire, which of course, she assumed to be somebody else’s tragedy.

In the middle of the street, there were fire trucks, firemen, sirens, police cars, police barriers, people standing, staring, pointing, running, screaming, crying, and not doing anything at all. And there was Señora Velázquez and Harris and then there was the realization that it was the building that she and they lived in that was burning. She looked for Alexander.

Marianna saw 50-odd firefighters backed by four pumpers, two aerial ladder trucks, and assorted rescue equipment. She saw policemen pulling up in police cars, throwing up barricades, blockading streets, and rerouting other vehicles and pedestrians. She saw tenants from her own building clutching pets, audio equipment, and strings of red peppers, but Marianna did not see Alexander. She started yelling.

“Alexander,” she yelled.

The fire had apparently started on the third floor, her floor, skipped the fourth floor and, following baseboards, spread to the top.

“We were on the roof and we could hear fire coming through from the fifth floor,” a fireman was telling a news reporter.

“Hey, man, I saw it. I saw it all,” someone behind him interrupted. “First, the third floor lit up. Then, the whole building … pow … went up.”

The fire was raised in the first hour from one-alarm to three-alarm status. There was no sprinkler system in the building. Clouds of thick, gray-white smoke rolled out, dense billows capped by plumes of flame. Firemen could not believe how smoky a fire it was. “It doesn’t make sense,” one said.

“There’s smoke you couldn’t cut with a knife in there,” he said as the air went black with smoke and flying ashes.

For one moment, suddenly unconscious, the crowd seemed drawn to the fire, attracted by its elemental warmth and beauty and power. But just as quickly there was no question of an attraction and no question about being held back. Everyone—firemen, policemen, tenants, neighbors, gawkers—was forced back by smoke and flame.

Señora Velázquez dropped to her knees, wailing. “Santa Maria Madre de Dios. Dios mio. ¿Que he hecho yo para merecer esto? ¿Que va a pasar conmigo? Estoy arruinada. Nada.”

A fireman staggered out of the building, injured, overcome by smoke. The EMS gathered him up in petite, frantic steps, moving him to an ambulance and then to a helicopter to be flown to a scuba diver’s decompression chamber in the Bronx to help purge his blood of carbon monoxide.

“Can’t anyone do anything,” a tenant cried, rushing towards a fireman.

“Lady, we’re doing all we can,” he said using the expression that is used to mean that the doing is in the undoing which has already been done.

Marianna started screaming.

Aerial trucks raised ladders to second floor windows and firefighters wrestled hoses into smoldering interiors in an attempt to quell the blaze. The window frames of a building adjoining caught fire. Firefighters atop cherry pickers aimed torrents of water at the windows, pushing shattered glass inside.

Fire Commissioner Spinnato was cornered by a television reporter and responded, “The fire does not seem to have multiple points of origin. However, at this time, we are not classifying it as accidental. We are not classifying it. As soon as fire marshals can get inside the building, they’ll be investigating whether arson was involved. Excuse me.”

Buses provided by the Red Cross lined up to take the imminently homeless to temporary shelter at a nearby church.

Flames snaked out windows on all five floors as trails of sparks leapt hundreds of feet into the air. Every story was alight from wall to wall, a 50-foot hollow structure of flame. The two remaining roof beams collapsed and fell through the building. One final wall stood, the facade of the building, and accordingly there was one final attempt to save it. In the one moment before the remaining wall fell, to Marianna it looked like nothing so much as the world’s largest domino. The world’s largest domino on fire, that is. And, as it toppled, what appeared before Marianna was a mottled blue and black sky. She felt an uncertain release, falling, feeling the certain peace of collapsing herself.

“Come in, Miss Eliot,” the fire lieutenant said rising. “Take a seat. How are you holding up? Have you found somewhere else to live?”

Marianna nodded.

“It’s a terrible thing to have happen to you. One of the worst.” He looked down into the folder on his desk. “Sixty-six people totally wiped out, all their possessions, their homes. Worse. A damn shame. But I don’t need to tell you.

“Marianna, you know from what we discussed on the phone that the fire department is closing this file, closing it rather reluctantly I might add, although the police department, as you are also aware, must keep theirs open. No trace of your boyfriend, Alexander Merrit, has been found. There were no bodies found at the site of the fire or in the vicinity. He has not contacted either you or any of his relatives or friends. Alexander Merrit has been declared missing.

“The fire marshal’s report is also inclusive. From what we can gather, the point of origin of the fire was in your apartment in the vicinity of the bed. The fire was not electrical in nature. This would lead us to conclude, if we possibly can, that the fire, possibly, was started in bed. Accidentally or otherwise. Without irony, I say that most accidents occur in the home.

“Let’s just briefly go over this again. When you left the apartment, was Alexander sleeping?”

“Not when I left. He did seem tired though.”

“So, it is possible … He could have, say, fallen asleep with a …”

“He didn’t smoke. He hated cigarettes. I know he didn’t smoke,”

Marianna said still going over and over in her mind how or why the lit votive candle, St. Anthony, got onto their bed.

 

On the street, Marianna stares at the remains of what was once a building but is now an empty lot. What remains is a charred grid on the brick wall of a building still standing. Smoke-stained silhouettes, ghostly outlines of windows, doors, fireplaces, the skeletal remains of rooms that once were but are now only edges of chipped plaster and crumbled baseboard.

Sniffing the faint smell of smoke that still lingers somewhere in the rubble, she looks up seeking his presence in that absence of mortar and lathe.

Marianna sits at a square, cloth covered table across from a Tarot card reader and a deck of Tarot cards.

“Why have you come to me today?” the reader asks Marianna.

“To try to find out what happened and why,” Marianna answers.

“Not for the future?”

“No.”

“Then, as I say, you have come for the truth the day after.”

The reader shuffles the cards, lays them out on the table, studies them.

“These cards are what the reading is about. And what the reading is about is a situation that is so difficult that it tears you apart emotionally. Someone really, actively, went out to hurt you. It was through the loss of love that this happened. Through all the unhappiness that comes with a love relationship being drained out. And this is the reason for this cruelty, this meanness. Somehow, even though it’s something that’s done on purpose to really hurt you, because of some unhappiness that existed, it’s almost as though you have a bit more control over it than you could. Everything that had been built up just exploded and fell apart. But, from this you move. Do you have some questions?”

“Yes.”

“I must tell you that it’s interesting to see that those two cards come up, the Nine of Swords and the Five of Cups. They say what the reading is about. Those two cards together make each card more negative than they actually are.”

“Double whammy, eh?”

“Yes, that’s right. This man doesn’t seem to be … he seems to be in your past. He just sort of leaves your life. That part leaves your life. I don’t think this man is around at all. I mean he’s not around for you anyway. I think he probably freaked himself out and left. What are your questions?”

“I was wondering … Well, the first question I had was, why did he start the fire?”

“I can tell you right now from this last reading that he was getting even. It’s a very primitive form of getting even. It’s almost like voodoo. It’s that kind of energy. With your left hand cut the cards three ways. Put them back in any order you want. Give me a number.”

“Eight.”

“Another.”

“Seven.”

“Another.”

“Fourteen.”

“One more.”

“Twelve.”

The reader studies the cards.

“It’s very strange the way it came out. He thought that he was being reborn. He thought that he was totally in balance. He sees things in a completely different way and it gave him a real direction. He found his direction by setting this fire. He found his own strength. It’s strange, because for him it was very good to do it. This is so weird. Don’t do anything about it. There’s nothing to do about it. He found his own strength from it. He found the direction that he should go in which is a completely different way than anybody else sees. He made some sacrifices to do it. Do something else with the same question. Spin this around. Now, put them back. Cut them four ways.”

The reader lays the cards out and studies them.

“Well, this becomes a little bit more clear. As to what was happening, there’s a dual nature. One, is that there is some growth happening, some real incredible growth. I don’t know if it’s with you or with him. But there’s not a connection between the growth and the depression. Normally, the way you bring out creative ideas, you’re not depressed. That’s why I asked you if your bringing out things made him depressed. But maybe the possibility of him having to really bring out and express what is within him freaked him out and made him depressed. The possibility of being very fertile and very creative scares him so much that he really freaks out and goes into a depression. In which case, nothing can be done right. It doesn’t matter what he tries to mix together, nothing will happen. And he gets to a standstill and sees things that no one else can possibly see. I think, for him, he sees things in ways that no one else can. He gets to such a standstill that he has so much anger, but then everything ends as everything falls apart. It ends and falls apart at the same time. But still in a way, it’s almost his salvation to do that. There’s the last card, the Tower of Destruction, but the card before it being the World and everything being in such perfect order, but he’s at such war within himself and such depression and at such a standstill and sees things so completely differently that it’s the way for him to do it, to really bring out his anger and be at war. It seems that there is the possibility for him to take his creative energies elsewhere, but instead he does it in a destructive way. And that for him seems to be his strength.”

“That’s his strength?”

“Well, that’s where he derives his strength within himself. There are professions that someone can do that are based on destruction, like the demolition of buildings, for instance, where you really tear buildings apart. That might be something that he would derive satisfaction from. What’s your next question?”

“Did he survive the fire?”

“Well, I think he survived the fire, but I think what happened is that as he was at this standstill and things in his head were going in so many different directions, he got to the point where he was to start over. Which is probably why he set the fire. That, for him was the point of starting over.

“Let me spin it around again and use the same question. I’m pretty sure he’s still around. But he’s not … As he finds his strength, he can’t deal with any kind of internal things or with any kind of success. He succeeded in burning the building down. But he’s still there, he’s still him. Where do you go from there? Give me a number.”

“Twelve. Two. Three. Nineteen.”

“That’s really the same thing that keeps coming up about him. It’s the same thing. He’s still there but he’s not doing anything. He can’t put himself together. He can’t put all the parts of himself together. He doesn’t know what direction to take things in. He can’t mix anything right at all. As to him, the Advice for you is to just go your own way and be strong. He’s around. He’s still in the same place. But I don’t see it as being any danger to you. The advice is to let things go. And you, in the end, become stronger. You combine your body together. You’re not so separated. You have your strength. But he’s not going to change. I think he’s out of your life for good.”

“He poses no threat?”

“No, he poses no threat,” the reader said. “Now, I hope I’ve answered your questions and possibly helped to put your mind at rest. Before we leave each other, however, I have a question for you.

“That question is, what would you have done if your home hadn’t burned down?”

Marianna looked across the table, across the shuffled energies of her own life, past, present, and future, met the reader eye to eye and stated, “I would have burned it down.”

Fire Engine Red by Craig Gholson
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012 Spring Summer 1985