I wasn’t there when the fire started. I didn’t feel the waves of burning matter on my skin. I didn’t watch the clutter disperse into smaller pieces, or see walls blackened by the process.
I received a calm phone call the morning after, one that left me several hundred pounds out of pocket. After rushing for a fast train, I was there, breathing in the fumes. It didn’t destroy everything, boxes of old junk survived untouched, memories written in pencil and ink. Memories I no longer recall, their importance no longer affecting decisions I make. I set fire to them all.
It was the first time in years I’d felt tears running down my cheeks, somewhat involuntarily. I buried a lot of the past under floorboards and in loft space, building over it until I had to bend my neck to walk through the house. It’s not that I missed my possessions and notes to myself, but watching words crumple into nothing is to mourn years of love and laughter and joy and sadness. It is as if hoarding those memories kept them alive, and actively throwing them onto the woodpile was killing them. Did I still want to read my 9th birthday card from a grandparent who’d been dead for 25 years? Or was the memory of knowing it had existed, at one time, enough to remember someone I barely knew?
A few days after my visit, I received a second phone call. The end of a cigarette rolling underneath the garage door and catching a disused mattress was the likely cause. A bit of luck that took a flick of someone’s wrist, a favourable breeze and the slight descent of the narrow driveway. It wasn’t a supernatural act, or the deliberate intent of an arsonist, but accidental damage. I felt conflicted, a character who should be liberated by the destruction, but instead flaps at the flaming pile of junk in a desperate attempt to rescue a memory. A memory I never cherished, a memory rewritten by time, a memory starved of oxygen.