I have the uneasy sensation of being watched from the upstairs window as I rake through the glowing ashes of the bonfire, sending plumes of smoke and sparks spiralling off into the grey winter’s afternoon. If I turn around suddenly, I imagine I might see a twitch of the curtain, a glimpse of a pale hand perhaps. But loss has a way of undermining your mental reserves, and I must be strong. As much for other people as for myself.
I reach into the packing case, and draw another pile of books and papers out, separating them as I feed them into the flames, where they brown, curl and finally shrivel into ashes. The leather bound covers of the diaries take longer to melt away; that’s only right, for they must have spent longer in her slender hands than the notebooks, photos and scrapbooks.
They’ve certainly occupied more of my time, as I’ve pored over them, reading every entry, trying to remember the things we did on the day in question, that person she might have met, or that place she’d visited. Such a painful journey that’s been, and tears now sting my eyes again; or maybe it’s the smoke, for I’ve vowed to harden my heart against all those memories. She is lost to me now.
The timbers at the base of the fire collapse, sending another shower of sparks into the air, and I begin to feed her clothes, one item at a time into the flames. She’d hate to see that favourite jacket finally meeting its end in the fire. It’s the one she wore when we used to walk through the woods to the lake, in the early days, when the future stretched ahead of us and it never occurred to us that anything might tear us apart.
And now I can almost feel her distress when I pull the wedding dress from its protective covering. I remember her walking down the aisle towards me, resplendent in that heavy silk gown, the train whispering against the edges of the pews, the carefully sewn pearls garnering dust bunnies from the church floor.
The air seems heavy with the scent of lilies, rather than the acrid fumes from the box of shoes that I’ve just consigned to the flames. I hold the dress to my cheek for a moment, feeling the soft coolness of the fabric, inhaling the residual fragrance of the perfume she’s always worn. And then I crush it into a ball and throw it with all my might into the flames, where it’s received with a flaring leap of welcome.
In the distance, across the chasm that now separates us, I think I hear her scream, and I cover my ears with my soot-stained hands as tears stream down my cheeks.
I’m almost done. I’ve removed just about every trace of her from my life, have exorcised the ghost of our life together, of what we once had, who we once were. Before that night.
I begin to stoke the fire again, piling timber, branches, crates, whatever I can find to bring the inferno to a sizzling, roaring crescendo.
As I turn towards the house, I catch a flash of movement at the upper window, as she pulls back, leaving a tell-tale circle of condensation on the window pane to betray her presence.
Taking the knife from my belt, I make my way silently up the stairs to the back bedroom, where I’ve imprisoned her.
The last vestige of another life I once enjoyed.