As she stared into the fire she became it. Felt the very moment that through some alchemical transformation the flames that roared before her eyes became the rage that had lain trapped and dormant in her sleeping soul. Felt the heat that blasted forth from this blaze become the heat of passion in her loins that had her almost moaning with pleasure, pleasure that was hers and hers alone. “Yes”, whispered an ancient voice that was both hers and not hers, that both was and was not, “Claim it, it’s yours”. And so she stood and roared with the flames and burned with the heat as she felt everything burn away, all of it, the very last shred of expectation, the very last whimper of shame.
Felt, for just a moment, the empty space, the void that was left behind, pregnant with possibility, ripe and fertile in its nothingness.
And both into that void, and out of it, blackened and reeling, brazen and bold, she rose.
Abruptly, a new kind of calm descended upon her. With a soft intake of breath she felt her awareness shift from her inner world back to the scene before her, and she gently turned her gaze away from the flames to those others standing around it. Looking around the circle she felt her heart swell as her gaze rested on the faces that flickered orange in the glow. Some were new to her, others she knew better than her own. All were now, and would be forever more, her brothers and sisters, united by the pain of loss and the rage of injustice that were stronger than any bond of blood.
In a soft voice that nonetheless cut clearly through the roaring and crackling of the blaze before them, she spoke:
“I know what we must do”.
As I passed the falafel shop’s large front window I stole a glance at my reflection, hoping nobody would see me looking. Shit, it’s true. There was no denying the new roundness that bulged insensitively over my jeans. I tugged again at my t-shirt as I attempted to swallow down the flutter of anxiety and stab of disgust that surged simultaneously upwards from my chest.
“Large falafel with fries”, I muttered as I glanced around the shop, hoping as I always did when out in public that nobody would notice how odd and out of place I felt. “No sauce”, I blurted as a clumsy afterthought, remembering the reflection in the window. Shave off a few calories.
Six o’clock sharp. Fifteen more minutes. My heart rate fluttered. Breathe. Was I even hungry?
I grabbed the warm polystyrene box that was held out to me and grabbed a booth by the window. Save time if I eat here. I chewed quickly and carelessly and swallowed in large gulps as my eyes scoured the street outside the window, looking for Ralph.
Would I even recognise him? Beyond his appearance, how would he have changed? I looked on helplessly as my chaotic mind raced through all the questions he might ask, all the lies I might need to create, all the injustices I might be called upon to explain.
At the end of the street, on the other side of the pavement from the falafel shop, walking briskly towards my building. That was him, that was Ralph, that walk I knew so well was unmistakable even at a distance. As he drew closer I saw that he was older. Well, of course he would be after so many years. And there was something else different about him. A different kind of style, a different way of holding himself. Bolder. Older and bolder.
I gulped, feeling suddenly insufficient in my jeans and t-shirt. My mind flickered once more to the bulge in the falafel shop window. I stood up, tugged at my t-shirt, took a deep breath, and began to walk purposefully towards Ralph.