Vision in Flames
by Sarah Ann Watts
In my mind’s eye I see her again, looking up at me as I come through the door, saying, Kieran, I knew you couldn’t hide away forever, I knew one day you’d come home.
Now memories are the only friends I have, and they are dark and twisted like me. I reach up and touch the bandage tied around the ruin of my eyes. They are gone, and I’ll never hurt anyone again.
You can’t say I’m alive. For a long time I wished I’d died, too, but I know that can’t happen. The old woman said death was too good for the likes of me.
Sometimes I wish I could see that old woman again, beg her to relent, take back those words and set me free. No reason she should: I killed her only daughter. Forgiveness is a miracle beyond most of us, and I know I’ll never dare ask.
Still, it is the only dream I have, I live it over and over, and now I’m going to share the secret of my love. Some nights it’s almost like she’s with me and I can hear her breathing in the dark. She is the ghost that haunts me, the only one who understands.
In my dreams I can see again. Maybe I’ll find the courage to open the door. Maybe this time she’ll let me go.
It is always cold in the house, cold and silent. I stand by the door, blind in the gloom. I can hear something now, slow shuffling movements, someone flopping around in slippers several sizes too big. I tense, my back against the wall.
Something catches between my shoulder blades and there is a click. The light comes on: electric, a dim bulb. Enough to dazzle me. I can see the kitchen door at the end of the hall and the framework of a door to the old parlour that was bricked up after the fire. I hear the footsteps pause and a querulous murmur, Turn out the light! I recognise that voice, the voice that spoke my curse.
I look round for the shadows; there is nowhere to hide. I draw my overcoat closer around me. The movements in the further room have ceased. Perhaps I imagine there is a different quality to the silence now: expectancy, almost as if the witch is waiting — waiting for me. Not yet! I’m not ready.
If I’d been brave I’d never have run away.
The circle turns and I am back again, nothing here can ever change. Will you take my hand? I am afraid.
I can move very quietly when I need to. Besides, the mother waiting behind that door is old and can’t hear too well. I don’t want to see her, and I am very sure she doesn’t want to see me. There is little danger in opening the forgotten door and stepping into the shadows.
It is dark in the parlour, but the orange light is shining in from the street. A ghost room, waiting for me to come back, knowing I have no choice. Next to the silver frame on the piano there is a crystal vase. I remember it from the old days. Now it stands beside the photograph and in it there is a white rose unfurling its petals even though there is no one to see. No one at all unless you count the image in the photograph. The image, of course is mine.
I look at myself for some time. It’s been quite a while since I saw my own face. I can’t tell you how long. I think I hear the clock strike the quarter. I know I wait until I am very cold before I move and then it is painful like I’ve grown older overnight.
I moved my hand, feeling for the golden chain that I am wearing in the picture. She gave it to me, the last time I saw her. Before I went away. Elaine, my love, the chain is broken now. They used it to bind me to my fate. Will you let me go?
You wouldn’t think this house could get any quieter, but it has. It must be late now, getting on for morning. I still haven’t done what I came for. There is silence behind that wall. The old woman must have gone upstairs. Gone to sleep. I can’t hear her moving any more.
I am out again in the hallway and I don’t remember how I got there. I have to open the door. I’ve taken the rose out of the vase; it’s in my hand. There is a single thorn; it’s long and sharp, but I can’t seem to feel it. I can’t feel much of anything. I lean against the door and it opens.
There are no electric bulbs in here, just an oil lantern. I turn up the light. My fingers tremble. In the rocking chair, curled up asleep beside the embers of the fire, there is a young girl. She is wearing a grey dress, and there is a scorch mark on the hem. I look for the flat-iron on the hearth; it is there as it always was.
I remember the fire even when I remember nothing else. Flames scored like crimson tears across my eyelids. Flames can do that, they can make you burn. Forget the shame: the whole town knew where I’d been. She knew, all right. Is that why, when the oil spilled, she let it burn? Is that why she returns forever in my dreams? We make our own hell. In my dream I run into the flames, a hero, saving the girl. But she is dust and ashes and I let her go.
I lean down and place the rose by her face. She doesn’t stir. I want to kiss her on her pale lips and awaken her, but it’s too late for that. At my touch she crumbles. The rocking chair sways and the rose tumbles to the floor, shedding petals as it falls. The light goes out, and I have no eyes to weep.
Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Ann Watts