The Physics of Fire – An Allegory.

The following is a work of fiction.  It is my attempt to stop these thoughts from swirling in my head, to halt the narrative I am continually creating in my mind.  The meeting I will be having tomorrow terrifies me.  So here is my swirling nightmare put into a context with which you might be able to identify, or at least come closer to understanding this flavor of grief and trauma.  


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“Hello” he says to me on the steps of my parents’ front porch.  He is dressed smartly, but his posture is somewhat hunched.  Someone else says something and he enters the house.  As the door closes behind him, he looks into my eyes and then I feel his fist make powerful contact with my chest. I can’t breathe.  It’s OK.  I expected it.   Everyone starts walking, so I do too.  I know people are talking, but I can’t understand them.  Can’t anyone see that I can’t breathe?

We sit at the kitchen table.  Where I used to eat my cereal when I lived here as a child, is now a conference room table.  He looks at me again, and again I feel the blow hit my chest and the air leaves me.  He holds up a picture of the remains of a house that has burned down.  The sight of this picture is painful.  He continues to hold it in front of my face, forcing me to take in the details.  I see the shell of what was there.  I see the remains of what was so close to my heart, what was such a part of me.  It wasn’t just a house, it was my home.  Being forced to see something that meant so much, after it has been destroyed is nearly impossible to do.  Every inch of my being is screaming “Run Away!” but I can’t.  I can’t even blink.  The image of the ashes of my home stays, unwavering before my eyes.  He takes the picture away, looks at me again, and again my chest caves to his fist and again I can’t breathe.  He looks at the others around the table and says, “OK?”  They nod.  He puts the picture down.

He folds his fingers together and rests them on the table in front of him.  He lowers his chin, looks at the faces on the opposite side of the table over the top of his glasses.  He takes a breath and begins to speak.

“Fire is a chemical reaction.  It can be ignited by many things, but it is essentially the part we can see as matter changes form.  There are two basic elements to fire: oxygen and efg-lgfuel.  However, these two alone can not create fire.  There must be some source to ignite the fuel.  This has everything to do with temperature.  For example, when wood gets to a
temperature of around 300 degrees Fahrenheit, it will begin to burn.  Gases are expelled leaving behind the carbon remains of the wood.  The side effect of this chemical reaction are two simple things, light and heat, both of which can be useful, but also devastating, depending on the circumstance.”  He pauses, claps his hands together, and says, “That’s pretty much it.

I look at him, almost wondering if he is kidding.  But who would be cavalier about a topic so horrifying and painful?  He continues to just sit there as if waiting for someone to offer him coffee.  I feel that the air has returned to my lungs.  I begin to speak.  My own voice sounds far away.  I ask, “Let me get this straight – my house, my home burned to the ground and you’re sitting there telling me how fire happens?!?”  I hear my voice getting louder.  “You were there.  You saw the fire that left nothing behind but ash, left me nothing to cling to, nothing to ease my pain and all you can tell me is that fire is hot, burns stuff, but can be useful?!?  Are you fucking kidding me?!?”

He shrugs and says, “There’s nothing more to say.”


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