(originally posted 7/12/2020)
Some might categorize it as a youthful indiscretion. Some of his peers called it pyromania. The court-appointed psychologist called it an impulse control issue.
Whatever you call it, the abandoned building burned to the ground just the same. The best hour of his life.
You never know when you look at someone what they are carrying around inside them.
The only poem he has ever written was in high school. It was a response to a homework question; What is fire? Perhaps his teacher got a glimpse into what he was carrying around when he read “An Ode to Combustion.”
Although unexpectedly beautiful, it did not include the word ‘pyre’ (So obvious! It rhymes with fire). An oversight that haunts him to this day. If he could go back and change things, this would be second on his list. After, of course, burning that building down.
So he made changes in his life. Improvements. Nosce te ipsum and such.
He owns an electric stove. In his fireplace sits one of those plastic logs and fake fire things. When he turns it on orange and yellow ‘flames’ roll endlessly on a loop above the logs.
It provides no heat.
Neither does his social life. Every Halloween he goes as a moth. This allows him a good reason to approach girls that are smoking. How he approaches them, with the same flight plan and erratic gesticulations of a moth, leaves much room for improvement.
His moth costume, with its numerous small round burn marks, bears witness to this.
Masturbation offers him little comfort. Instead, during wildfire season he will often takes days off of work just to sit and watch the Weather Channel’s coverage. “California… all those expensive homes. Mmmm.”
When he explained to co-workers how he spent his vacation one of them jokingly asked if he was crazy. “Where there’s smoke there is fire” snickered a plump woman in earshot.
“Sometimes” he replied, “there is fire without smoke. In complete combustion, if there is enough oxygen present, the burning fuel will produce only water and carbon dioxide. I believe you’re thinking of incomplete combustion, where there isn’t enough oxygen and carbon and carbon monoxide are also released. i.e. smoke.”
Nobody said a word. Before it got awkward he added “There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.” Long pause. “ Vincent van Gogh said that.”
Before it got wildly awkward he walked away.
He allows himself one exception to his many self-imposed rules. A single candle sits on his kitchen table.
Non-scented of course. Its purpose having nothing to do with making his house smell like Antique Sandalwood or Cucumber Melon.
It is always alight. He says goodbye to it when he leaves and it’s there to greet him upon his return. He stares at it like an old lover. Soaking in same chemical reaction involved in the best hour of his life. A light in the darkness. Flickering and dancing.
Why do I tell you all this? Because you never know when you look at someone what they are carrying around inside them.
“The moth takes off again, and we both step back, because he’s circling at eye level now and seems to have lost rudder control, smacking into the wall on each round. He circles lower and lower, spinning around the candle in tighter revolutions, like a soap sud over an open drain. A few times he seems to touch the flame, but dances off unhurt.
Then he ignites like a ball of hair, curling into an oily puff of fumes with a hiss. The candle flame flickers and dims for a moment, then burns as bright as before.
Moth smoke lingers.”
― Mohsin Hamid, Moth Smoke