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The Cigarettes Burn I turned the knob of the stove, missing the igniting click and welcoming the arid gas that flowed from its bowels. I closed my eyes, breathing in the delirious scent and imagining a thousand different catastrophes that could happen were I to simply walk away from the appliance. My family rested easily in their beds, oblivious as to how vulnerable they were in that instant. Their snores rebounded off the walls and shook the picture frames, taunting me and the cold monstrosity that rested clumsily a few inches beneath my fingertips. I used to think my parents slept on separate beds because they couldn’t stand each other’s snoring. Closing my eyes tighter, I thought of how I could rummage through my mother’s purse and find her lighter, squeezing it between my shaking sweaty fingers before thrusting my thumb downward and setting ablaze the gas and snores. The same lighter she used to fill her blackened lungs would become the instrument of a much sooner ending. It would be quicker this way, too – she may even appreciate it. My mother: always building bridges to better understand the son she raised, trying so hard to identify and relate. If I told her one morning, “Mom, last night I considered setting you and your belongings on fire, and I had to laugh to myself as I thought about the irony of your cigarettes burning” – what would she think? Would she smile proudly, holding me to her chest, thanking God for the son she was blessed with? No, she wouldn’t understand. As a child, my thoughts were often appalling and terrible, and I believed myself to be evil for the longest time - convinced that only I entertained these terrifying notions. What was I afraid of? What if my mother stopped loving the wretch that I was? No, that can never happen, for I crave that love – I need it, and so I will pay a price. I will shun my nature, and I will be normal. If I smile and play and laugh and act like I only worry about finger-paints and football practice, well, then I will be loved. I told myself: you are dark, and you are scary, but your mother will love you if you try your hardest and be like the other boys and girls. My lungs now overwhelmed with gas, I stifled a gag and came to my polluted senses. I blinked away the thoughts that had occupied my mind the last few minutes and looked down at my hand. The little black knob was still there, turned to High and smiling at me from its resting place. Moments passed under the weight of decision until finally I


sent the stove back into its metallic sleep. Not tonight, I thought. I crept through my living room, passing my father as he lay on the couch, timing my footsteps with his deep and troubled breathing to avoid making the slightest disturbance. A car alarm could go off and wail and fill all the night sky with its incessant crying, and he would sleep through it, subconsciously comfortable with the sounds of urban activity. If I were to drag my toes in the wake of my blind wanderings, however, he would surely bolt upright and alarmed, incoherently mumbling short words of reprove and implication. Treading my bare feet across the cold tiled floor of the hallway, I entered my mother’s bedroom and waited patiently as my sunken eyes adjusted to the dark. Her figure became distinguishable from the pillows and blankets that lined her wide bed - her nightgown glowing like a welcoming beacon, calling so desperately for the love I refused to give. As I peered in at her and through the masking dark, I asked myself: “am I a bad person? The woman before me endured the insufferable pain of childbirth and pushed me out into this disaster of an existence, headfirst and unprepared for the overwhelming feeling of desolation that I would come to know. Is she a bad person? Always doing what she thought was best, but at the same time, never forgetting to show that she is human through her undeniable flaws and poor decisions. No, she is a wonderful person. I am the wall that her attentive hands nurture and support – she, the foundation on which my throne of solitude is built, has the solitary power to overthrow me and send my house of cards tumbling into the oblivion she once pulled me from.” Just as she knew not of the lurking gas that once came seeping from the kitchen, she is just as oblivious as to how much she means to me. Were I good with words, I would tell her. Were I comfortable with my humanity, I would share it with her. I walked slowly to her bedside and bent my frame down towards the warm and tender face of a neglected mother, pressing my lips to her forehead and wrapping my arms around her figure. I whispered: “My greatest pain comes from the hurt that you endure at my doing. I cannot help you – I cannot even help myself. But for your pain, I am sorry.”


The Cigarettes Burn