(originally appeared at Yareah Magazine 5/18/2014)
“Ok, let’s get started,” he thought to himself as he turned his car down the narrow lane and saw the house.
What was left of it.
And it wasn’t actually his car. He had recently borrowed it.
Most people would consider what he was doing as simple escapism but it was all he could think to do. To try and make things right. To rebuild.
He had burnt down the house ten years ago. Their house. He regretted it and even after all the years had passed, he still woke up screaming her name. He saw the flames and felt the heat and smelled the smoke on his clothes even after he woke up.
He started with the front steps. He was no good with tools but he was going to try just the same. He tore out the charred old pieces and started hammering the new wood into place. Try as he might though, he couldn’t get the steps level.
Things have to be level. “Things have to be on the level,” he heard her say. “They have to be on the up and up,” and he closed his eyes tight and fought the urge to hurl the hammer into the woods and run far from the house, but he didn’t.
“Good enough,” he thought to himself. The steps would work. They would bring her from the front step into the house. That’s all steps need to do. Step by step. A step at a time. Level or not.
Doors and windows seemed trickier. A good wind will make a bad window whistle and he still felt the draft under the door back when it was the front door of their home. He stuck a towel under the door and argued that any heat lost in the winter was balanced by the cool air contributed to the summer.
“It’s all a balancing act, Dear,” he would argue. He loved to call her Dear and she hated it and called him unbalanced.
The days passed and anyone looking for him would never have thought to take a drive out to his old abode. He felt more alive with every nail he pounded.
Maybe he could make it right. Maybe she would take him back.
He wished he could ask for outside help but they wouldn’t understand. Apparently burning down your own home is a crime punishable by a life sentence. Nobody had ever looked at him the same way.
“You never have to be afraid of me.” He jerked awake. Out of the dream of how things were. Laying in what was left of their front room he fell asleep looking up at the stars and dreamt of holding her and woke up angry and cold.
Why couldn’t she even pretend in his dream? It was just a dream after all.
He went back to work, ferociously tearing away anything that reminded him of the blaze that consumed everything. There were days that it wasn’t a wonder the whole thing didn’t collapse down upon him.
There were moments he wished it would. Just like the old days.
Such a simple thing lighting a match. He wished that gasoline didn’t burn so well and words didn’t sting so much and memories didn’t hold on so damned tight.
He grabbed the saw and went back to work humming the same part of an Eagles song over and over and over and over:
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key
He spent an hour trying to remember the title but it was only after he stopped trying it came to him. “Already Gone…” of course.
His back ached and he wondered what she would say when she saw the work he’d done. A helicopter passed over him and a bright light shone down on him. He had to admit to himself that the house still looked like crap. He wasn’t one of those handy men. The guy in the helicopter probably had a good laugh.
He wondered if it would be good enough to get her back. Would she see it how he wanted it to be? Would she appreciate all the hard work and see the glimmer of the man she’d hoped he would become one day?
Could she forgive him?
Then he remembered that she had died in the fire.
Somewhere off in the distance he heard the wailing of an approaching siren.