Inspired by Natsume Shoseki (look him up, good writer), Edgar Allen Poe, Lizzie Borden, and recent events and emotions.
The muscle and sinews in my arms ache. They burn as if on fire. It's a dull, throbbing sensation. I can ignore it but every move constantly reminds me of my limits, my weaknesses. I consider the pain, giving it more attention that it deserves but I find it intriguing. I've already acknowledge that it is there and it hurts but still it pulses beneath my skin. I can almost see it. The fire rages in my arms and it don't settle until I've come to a standstill. I can't stand still. I've got work to do.
Winter. Winter is the perfect time of year. Everything with sense has hunkered down or died. Winter is inhospitable, cruel, and unforgiving. It's everything that life can be and more. A glittering, sparkling wonderland. A white blanket that defies the inherent deadliness of the season. Winter was the perfect time.
I stop, sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes and pooling in the crevasse of my lips. The salty flavor only makes me thirsty but I don't have time for refreshments. I hardly have time for the brief reprise I'm taking now. Precious seconds ticking by and piling on to each other until they turn into one minute, two... three. The pain in my arms seems to intensify. The ache is sharper now. Is it angry that I've stopped or that I've refused to appreciate it? More important than the pain is the task.
The ice covered limbs of silver trees make the branches tinkle and ring. The sidewalks and streets have been dutifully cleaned. The piles of now grimy snow make little mountain chains along the pathways. I could hear from the street the rhythmic cadence of man chopping would. I could imagine the small clouds of frost that escaped his mouth as he swung the ax. His grunts, his huffs, his sighs, all breaths that led inevitably to death.
I look at my handiwork. It's crude and rough. There is no finesse, no semblance of skill or method. I'm slightly disgusted with this fact and I try to shrug it off. I'm suddenly aware of all the dirt and grime on my own body. The weight of it all suddenly makes me feel heavy and worn. The pain in my arms is cackling now. The task is far from complete, however.
I walked to the back of the house, my hand buried deep into my pockets, fumbling with the lint tucked into the seams. I watched him swing the ax down on the circular portions of tree and split them into two. He would let the blocks fall where they liked, then pick up another bit of tree and repeat the process. His whole body seemed to be into the work of it. It was strangely fascinating, almost cathartic, to watch the slow destruction of something. The wood was once a tree, or many trees, living and thriving with an obliviousness that only nature can hold. Then one day and ax, much like the one he was using, bit into the flesh of the tree. Did it scream, I wondered. The tree fell over, toppled like any man or beast would, and was dragged to be processed. At some point, some of that tree or trees ended up here only to be mutilated further. In the end, what would remain of the tree wouldn't resemble any form before it. It would be ash. Grey, uniform, lifeless, and unimportant ash. No one would look at the ashes and say, "That used to be a wonderful tree."
I walk to the fire pit that I have made. It is also crude. I arrange the branches and blocks a little more but it never seems to look any better. It's infuriating and the pain is still laughing at me. I fumble around my pockets for matches but only find the same bits of lint that have lived there for years. A quick survey around the yard reveals there is nothing that will save me. I'll have to venture inside.
The greeting between us was lukewarm at best. Conversation with thinly veiled mutual contempt filled the space between us. I explained that I was just dropping by, just stopping to say hello. He grunts as he lifts the ax and decides I'm not worth responding to. I watch for some time, a heat brewing in my gut that I could explain. I wondered if I would be sick but instead of saying so, I offered my assistance. He doesn't answer, reestablishing that he controls the situation and environment. He puts down the ax and goes inside. The edge of the blade dances in the light. I wondered if it was truly sharp or whether it was dull but by the sheer brutish force of a man willing a bit of tree to submit the task was fulfilled. I picked it up and felt its weight. It was indeed heavy. I flipped it up to see the head of the axe. I ran my finger across as I examined it. It was only slightly sharp. I looked towards the house. I could have easily just taken up the job without permission. He would scoff at my attempt and then force me away. My attempts at filial piety would be unappreciated. The thought made the heat in my stomach roil.
As I look in drawers, cabinets, bins, and rooms. I realize how heavily I am breathing. My lungs are not afire and I feel utterly spent. The momentum of the moment had passed and I've returned to being human - weak, inexperienced and frail. I find what I am looking for in the basement. A box of matches lying carelessly on a table. The rough sandpaper had been struck so many times it had worn down in places. Useless to the match and useless to anyone else. I run a match across just to see if it will light. The light sparked from the matchhead and burned down the wood until it fizzled out at my fingertips. Satisfied, I headed back up the steps and out the door.
As I had suspected, he came out and took an instant dislike to what I was doing. I had just begun to sweat before I was unceremoniously shoved aside. My foot caught on one of the block and I fell backwards landing hard. He doesn't offer a hand to help. I was alone in my effort to get back on my feet. I have to stand on my own. I dusted myself off and briefly wondered if he cared. He shrugs at me. I glowered back, wordlessly chastising him for his lack of manners and paternal concern. It was too much. I was too much for me.
I begin the fire. It's slow to start. Nurturing the timid fire required care. It need just the right amount of fuel, gentle prodding and tending to encourage it to the consume the right parts of the wood, it needed air, space, and time. Soon it would slowly grow stronger, more resilient. It would need less tending. Prodding it harder would only make it angry, make it want to consume its attacker. A careful eye would be needed to make sure the fire didn't burn out of control. It would grow to be warm, stately, inviting and alluring. A beautiful force of nature that any man, primitive or modern, would recognize as both wonderful and necessary. So I lovingly caress the fire, gently encouraging its hungry tongues, and it responds positively.
At my feet was a man. A man broken. The heat was gone.A cold lump replaced it and I genuinely felt sick. His expression as almost comical. His jaw agape and his eyes wide. He looked shocked. I'm sure he was. The thought makes me laugh. I look at the wood pile and at the chunks of tree and begin working. I took a great amount of pleasure in finishing the job on my own, my slack-jawed corpse of a father watching in disbelief. When I had finished, I stacked the newly cut blocks into the woodpile with care. My small corner looked picturesque where he had just carelessly stacked his portion into a disheveled arrangement. Mine was better and that's all the mattered. I looked back at him. He was still amazed but as I stared the cold coal in my stomach ignited again. He was amazed because he was in disbelief. He had a lack of faith, and as I proved, an error in judgment. I felt something cool in my hand. It was the wooden handle of the ax. The edge smiled up at me and I promised that I would sharpen it carefully after I was done.
The fire was roaring now. To hear it hissing, popping, demanding more of itself was slightly maddening. It was so much raw energy contained in such a small space. To think that something so small as a match head could start this fire and things as benign as dead wood could keep it going. I look back at the woodpile, half of it a mess and half of it orderly. I look at the axe, the gleaming edge biting into the tree stump that took sacrifices of its brethren. I look at that pile of meat that was once patriarch but now resembling nothing important. Finally, I look at the house - cold, empty, and noncommittal. The burn now all over my body asks me what I will do next. I simply reply, "I will be reborn."