Hearth

byVenus Inference©

The blue-breasted mother stood over her warm fledglings with contentedness, and perhaps even pride. Her babies yipped, and the sun shone. The forecast called for a cloudless, eighty-seven degree atmosphere throughout the day. Inside, bathing, Denise watched through the bathroom window; the version of reality she witnessed, a polar opposite.

The robin family huddled to preserve their warmth. The mother and father froze at a sacrifice for the cuddling newborns. The wind blew a branch from their home across the frosted pane the young girl gazed out of, into her misperceptions. The tree's extremity flew across, scratching and bloomless, hopeless, making imperfect ellipses in perfect step with the tenacious volition of the cyclic gale. Should one of the poor birds have fallen, they would have died in the snow, unaccounted, while individual feather hairs stuck to one another, inseparable even to God.

Denise sponged her knees and breasts. If numbness were not, itself, some thing, then there would have been no thing going on in her adolescent brain. She may have even contemplated suicide while she was shaving her legs, though the thought of alleviation more or less made her laugh. Such a concept must be some kind of running gag in this small, senseless universe, right? In all of its cruelty and gravity, the horizons correspond only with their limits. When she cried, she cried alone, and so laughter had become an open wound. She was convinced that if she made it to Heaven, the cable would go out and the screen would scroll, lending her to an accidental cameo between Lucifer's wisdom teeth, where she'd be ground for eternity, and forced to make eyes with the only man Christ ever trusted... but she didn't really believe in Heaven or Hell. No, hearth had come to be the one concrete she could put any faith in. The rest was too abstract. Meanwhile, the boy of her dreams dreamt up combinations of purity and sex with Denise in the dirtiest corners of Texaco gas stations across America; graffitied stalls offering nothing but serrated wit, timeless advice... and, of course, the ambiance.

Denise sighed for a happy family of robins, who were in perfect health. That they hadn't already high-tailed it south, three weeks ago, didn't even cross her mind. That she may have been delusional could not possibly have penetrated the filter that now surrounded all of her thoughts: Caleb already had a girlfriend. Her prophecy was a self-fulfilling one. "Nose to the ground," she would tell herself. At school, his girlfriend was the only thing keeping his eyes from wandering, in lust, all over her pale portrait of living death. In his own bed, nothing could stop his very mind from turning the eye of his soul in the right direction. When morning came, he changed his sheets, but had to stop and consider whether or not he really wanted to.

Denise would be asleep soon, in bed. For a brief moment, she lost her grip and he leapt into her thoughts, seconds before she would have stepped out of the tub. Her body tensed as she closed her tear ducts from letting go more than that first drop, rolling down her cheek. Perhaps, her fingers even briefly trailed her tender parts, but she kept those fingers collared and chained. To deny herself pleasure, she felt, made her one with that universe that she tried harder and harder to blink, as the years rolled over. It simply would not go away... and so, she thought, "I will just be a mirror." She batted at the soapy surface of the lacustrine body, contained within the smooth, porcelain tub she had earlier crawled into. It was a gesture of frustration. To deny herself release improved the accuracy of the image, her reflection in nature.

While her fancy fantasized about making her come, repeatedly, violently, she was oblivious, blind to all of the signs. She was nothing but a wilted wallflower, and he, though he secretly despised everything he was, had still carried the school through an average of 13 pigskin victories a season for the last six years. His vapid girlfriend had been on the sidelines, cheering him on for all six of them. Nothing had changed. They both had the same friends, now, that they had in the beginning. Despite his confidence on the field, he was a coward where it counted. He let his fear conquer him when it came to his yearnings for this other, paler, poorer girl.

Denise did, too, dream that night. She dreamt of a dismal strip on the interstate where cars would periodically stop, so that their drivers could step out of their vehicles, single or widowed, cheated on or just lonely, and mount the otherwise useless poles, erected along the shoulders of the road. It was dark and the fog was thick. These men and women, so desperate for any kind of reconciliation, projected life onto the exanimate columns. It was there that they fulfilled their most intimate and immediate obligations to themselves. Some merely wrapped their arms around their lovers, and caressed imaginary heads of hair for hours. Others would undulate, vehemently, preoccupied with some neurotic dismissal of their own symbiotic nature. They would scream archaic syllables and do things with their tongue that wouldn't have been possible, were it not that the pitchfork belonged to The Devil, and in his hands.

From outside, where the breeze was constant, and invigorating for the birds, or whichever people were lucky enough to be able to speak of their own mental health from an honest perspective, the branch continued to scrape and pry at the window to a young girl's soul. That girl is no longer present. She has settled for another world, where it is always winter, and the human race is too selfish to adapt; distance, a way of life, and much easier to accept than the risk of adventure, or even travel.

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