Christopher Barzak is the author of the Crawford Fantasy Award winning novel, One for Sorrow (Bantam, 2007), which has been made into the Sundance feature film Jamie Marks is Dead. His second novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing (Bantam, 2008), was a finalist for the Nebula and the Tiptree Awards. He is also the author of two collections: Birds and Birthdays (Aqueduct Press, 2012), a collection of surrealist fantasy stories, and Before and Afterlives (Lethe Press, 2013), a collection of supernatural fantasies. He grew up in rural Ohio, has lived in a southern California beach town, the capital of Michigan, and has taught English outside of Tokyo, Japan, where he lived for two years. His next novel, Wonders of the Invisible World, will be published by Knopf in 2015. Currently he teaches fiction writing in the Northeast Ohio MFA program at Youngstown State University. The following story, “A Resurrection Artist,” originally published in The Third Alternative (now titled Black Static) and collected in Before and Afterlives, is reprinted here with permission from the author and his press. – The Editors
Lying here in this abandoned hotel, I have done it once again. Once every year or so, depending on my finances, I allow myself to die. It’s a way of life, a means to an end, or an end to life as a way of surviving. Any way you look at it, my body is a miracle.
Now comes the burning sensation of re-entry, a tingling that grows to feel like fire. As I find myself returning to my body, every cell expands, flooding with electricity. Then my eyes blink over and over, making adjustments to reality and to the grade of light. I gasp for a first breath, then howl like a newborn. After this I can begin to see the people who killed me hovering over my body, their oval faces peering down, curious, amazed.
This audience has been the eighth group to kill me. It was a thrill for them, I’m sure, even though some have already seen me do this. I’m developing a following. Times are rough, Jan constantly tells me. People need something to believe in. Jan is my manager. She’s my sister, too. Improvisation, spins on old ideas, variations on a theme, she advises, is what’s needed to keep this act alive.
This act can’t die, though, even if I tried. Like the cat, I have nine lives. More than nine most likely, but in matters like this there’s always the unpredictable to take into account. So far, though, Jan and I haven’t figured out how to mess up death.
A young man wearing a dark suit says, “This can’t be happening.” I cough and spit up blood in my hands. There’s a golden ring on one of my fingers that wasn’t there when I died. This must be what I brought back this time. I try to recall how they killed me, but can only remember in pieces: a burn under my ribs where a knife slid in, the jolt of a gunshot splitting my chest open, my eyes flooding with blood after the blow of a hammer.
“Believe,” says Jan. I follow her voice to find her standing beside me. She waves her hand over my body, from head to toe. “You did it yourselves,” she tells them. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is his body, his arms, his legs, his head and torso. You’ve kept vigil beside him since the moment of death. I hope the experience has been satisfying.”
There’s an old lady whose eyes have slowly narrowed to slits. “I’m not so sure,” she says. “I mean, I know he died. We saw the heart monitor, the flat line. But now that he’s alive again, it just doesn’t seem fair.”
A typical reaction, really. Some people are confused about what they truly want. She didn’t pay for a resurrection; she only wanted the death.
But we have their money, ten thousand dollars a head, and there are eight of them. We kept this group small since outings like this — a killing instead of a suicide — are illegal. Hence the abandoned hotel, once known as The Flamingo. The carpet, the striped wallpaper, the floor of the drained pool, everything here is pink.
“Mrs. Bertrand,” Jan says, “you’ve just witnessed a miracle. My little brother, barely twenty-three years old, allowed you to kill him so he could return to us from death. How can you possibly be disappointed?”
Mrs. Bertrand sniffles. “Oh yes,” she says. “I know. I wasn’t really complaining. Don’t mind me.”
Jan smiles. Mrs. Bertrand smiles. The rest of the killers smile. I try, but only manage a weak sneer.
“Well,” Jan says later, “that was almost profitable.” She’s sitting at a table in the corner of the room. Calculator and laptop out, spreadsheet of our budget glowing onscreen. The killers have left, have said their goodbyes, their goodnights, have given me their best regards. I’m still half-naked and bloody, although the blood dried hours ago, while I was dead.
“Why almost profitable?” I ask. “Eighty thousand. That’s a good haul.”
“It will keep our heads above water,” says Jan. She grimaces, taps her teeth with a long red fingernail. “Aiden,” she says, looking at me in her serious way. “You can’t go so long between exhibitions anymore. It’s been almost two years since the last one. People forget about you if you don’t give them what they want. Eighty thousand won’t get us through the next two years. And besides, we shouldn’t be so lazy. Dad raised us to work hard. We should honor his memory better.”
Goosebumps begin to pop up on my legs. I look down and find something very like a beetle crawling across the hairs on my thigh. It has a red V‑shaped mark on its black-shelled back. I position my fingers next to it and flick it across the room, where it lands beside Jan’s foot and waves its legs in the air desperately.
“Gross,” says Jan. “Why don’t you take a shower?”
“There’s no water in this place.”
“Well put some clothes on and find some. You’re a goddamned mess.”
I’m a goddamned mess, I’m a goddamned mess. God damned, maybe; a mess, definitely. Jan has no tact, no consideration with words. She thinks they are so innocent, something you can take for granted, so she uses them without thinking. She’s comfortable with clichés. I, on the other hand, am a little more than wary. Too often I find myself victimized by an over-used phrase. You’re a goddamned mess. I’m certain Jan didn’t think out the alternative meanings of that one.
First a stop at a gas station bathroom to wash the blood from my face so I’m suitable in public. Then a shower at the local Y, long and steam-heavy. There’s nothing like it to make me feel fresh and new again. As I wash off the second skin of dried blood I think, this must be like afterbirth, how a nurse wipes it off of a newborn’s skin.
“Jesus, what happened to you?” a man says beside me. He’s soaping up his hairy chest, staring over at me like he’s either disgusted or frightened. He walked in minutes after me and, though I’ve already washed off all the blood, a few fresh scars remain. Those will take a week or so to heal.
“Car accident,” I tell him. “Head-on, couple of years ago.”
“No kidding,” he says, lathering his underarms.
“I was lucky,” I say. “I wasn’t even wearing a safety belt.”
“Shit,” he says. “You are lucky, buddy.”
I nod in this way that makes me look like I feel really lucky. Someone like him would appreciate a nod like that, I think. You can’t ever be sure what someone else wants, but I can’t help but try to anticipate.
This time I’ve anticipated correctly. The guy gives me a sympathetic shake of his head, an I‑feel-for-you-buddy face, but it only manages to disturb me.
I look away, tip my head back, and fill my mouth with hot water.
It wasn’t always such a bother, really. Resurrection, I mean. For quite some time it was a necessary, meaningful part of my life. If I couldn’t resurrect, I wondered, who would I be? Most likely I would have had a wallet with pictures of a wife and children inside it, credit cards, a driver’s license, and a decent amount of money. These articles, then, would have defined my one, singular life. But I have to stop this line of thinking. I can’t allow myself the fantasy of banality. It’s been years since I first resurrected, but the quotidian can still drive me wild with envy and fear.
The first time I died, I was fifteen. We’d just buried my father two months earlier. I was having trouble learning how to live without him. I’d been crying a lot, and sleeping. Often I’d chew my nails down to the quick. Then one day I hung myself from our staircase banister. My mother found me later and, I’m sure you can imagine, a certain amount of hysteria followed from there.
She got me down, though, with Jan’s help. Jan was going to college at the time, majoring in business management, but I’d had the decency to hang myself at Christmas, when I knew she’d be home to help my mother unhinge me.
My neck was broken. I can remember the snap, the grind of bone, and the awful copper taste that filled my throat. Then I fainted. Then I stopped breathing. Mom and Jan had gone out shopping. When they returned, arms strung with department store bags, I’d already been dead for several hours.
If they hadn’t been so overwhelmed, if they hadn’t wailed in confusion, they might have called an ambulance, and I might have resurrected under the blare of sirens. But instead my mother sobbed over my broken body while Jan tried to comfort her. They found a thick, leather-bound book in my hands, my fingers curled stiff around the spine. The pages were blank, so they didn’t know what to make of it. Shouldn’t it have held the reasons for my dying? Instead of being the period to punctuate the end of my life, though, it was blank, a beginning. When I opened my eyes and sat up a few minutes later, the first thing I did was ask if the stores had been crowded.
Jan slapped me. Jan slaps hard. She was so angry at first. Then after my mother came around from her faint and cheered up a bit, Jan had one of her big ideas. Those loans of hers, my mother’s debts, my dead father’s unpaid hospital bills. If I could do it again, this death trick, we could make a pretty penny. At the time I thought that could be a good benefit. But really the thing I was feeling was that, for the first time in my life, I’d found something a little like myself.
My mother refused. She shook her head and said no flat out. This was a miracle, she insisted, not a talent. Things like this happen for a reason, not over and over like sitcom reruns.
Jan nodded and said my mother was right. Of course it was a bad idea. But later, after our mother went to sleep, she came to stand in my bedroom doorway and said, “We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
She led me to the bathroom, where she filled the tub with warm water and told me to get in. “What for?” I asked. I folded my arms across my chest, suddenly chilly.
Jan frowned. Tears started to fill her eyes. “Do this for me, Aidan,” she said. She looked down at the tiled floor and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
I got into the tub and the water soaked through my jeans and t‑shirt. Jan knelt on the floor beside me. She took my wrists, one after the other, and slid a razor up them gently. I winced, crying a little as the cuts she made separated. Blood pulsed out, but the tub caught it. It caught all of my blood for the rest of the night.
“I have an idea,” Jan says. She’s cleaned up the hotel room, destroyed the evidence. Not that the proprietors of the Flamingo will be returning. She’s standing next to a sliding glass door that opens onto a balcony. You don’t have to open it — the glass is shattered — so you can step right through. She points a finger in the air beside her ear, like a light bulb lighting, wagging it a little.
“What?” I say. I can’t stand when she does this.
“We go global,” Jan says. “I’ve built you that web page, but I don’t think we’ve been using it to its full potential.”
“Which would be?”
“Something big,” says Jan. She paces back and forth in a square of sunlight falling through the shattered door. The web page she built has what I’ve named a “Diery” on it, a journal that chronicles my deaths. I write my entries in the leather-bound book I brought back the first time I died, then Jan transfers them to the web. The entries are the only thing I have to do with the site. Jan does all the rest. She says I have a way with words, but that I should let her take care of business.
“How big is big?” I ask.
“We advertise for a grand finale,” says Jan. “We say it’s your last appearance. Then the appointments pour in. It’ll be like when some painter dies and his paintings suddenly become worth something. I’m a genius, I know, you don’t have to say so.”
“But that would be lying,” I say. “You know I’ll just come back.”
“Oh Jesus, Aiden, no one will give a damn if we give them a good enough ending. Lighten up.”
There is only one other sensation like death available: orgasm. The French call it la petite mort, the little death. It’s that brief moment during climax when everything is burned away from consciousness and a person feels a part of their self break off, snap in half, shatter into a thousand pieces.
Resurrection, like everything else, can be a form of art. I do my best to keep my dying pure, to make it something special. It’s a highwire act without a net, it’s skating on melting ice. You fall through, you drown in that dark place. It’s the ascension, when you resurface, when your head breaks the water, when you gasp for air again, that elevates the fall to something grander. Somehow you’ve survived.
It sounds as though it’s done for audiences alone, but this is not true. It’s the flare of recognition, the shock of being seen in such a vulnerable state, it’s the cries of believers and unbelievers when I come round that thrills me back into my bones and blood. “A miracle!” they all shout, even though they’ve murdered me as best as they know how.
I try to write:
This was the first time I allowed myself to be murdered by strangers; it was also the last. Not having control of the situation, not being the one to take my own life is too horrible to repeat.
Resurrection isn’t New Age or mystical. It’s not something connected with people who migrate to be near the UFO infested desert skies of New Mexico. No aliens, no chakras, no spells, no crystals or runes will be found upon my person.
Resurrection is an art, not a movement. It’s not something anyone can decide to do. And what I must be clear about is that I’m not someone that requires faith or belief. I’m no messiah, nor do my travels between death and life mean much beyond that event in and of itself. My deaths and rebirths remind others of their own forgotten lives. We all die, but we do not all resurrect. Herein lies a profound difference.
But Jan deletes this section. She says she will only publish entries that carry positive messages. “This stuff about being murdered,” she says, “it’s just too bleak. And as for the rest, talking negatively about certain groups of people, i.e. New Age followers and UFO cults, you just can’t do that, Aiden. Don’t alienate part of your audience.”
“I was trying to explain,” I say. “What I experience. What I know.”
“Don’t worry about things like that,” says Jan. “That’s not something anyone wants to hear anyway.”
Jan is all secrets and mystery. She’s rented me a room at an upscale hotel. She sends me an allowance every week. “You deserve it, baby brother,” she says. “Live it up for a while, hear?”
“Thanks, Jan,” I say, even though I’m bursting with suspicion.
She calls every day to make sure I’m having fun, eating well, seeing the sights. She emphasizes my having fun a lot, then her conversations shrivel. “You only live once,” she says without thinking, and all I can do is nod.
Jan’s very busy, she tells me, planning the big day. I think about how the big day is a phrase used by women concerning someone else’s wedding. I wonder if Jan has managed to meet someone she desperately loves, who she intends to marry. I look at the gold ring I brought back when I died at the Flamingo. She could use it for the wedding. She could have it fitted.
“How are preparations?” I ask. I’m sitting on my bed watching a show with many ambulances and police car chases. Outside, framed by my window, a palm tree sways in a breeze.
“Fine,” says Jan. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
I say okay but decide to push for details. “What are the plans this time?”
“Mother’s going to visit soon,” says Jan. Then she tells me she has calls to make, people to see. The phone clicks, then the tone of disconnection floods the line. I slowly put the phone back on its cradle.
On the television, sirens are blaring.
“Who’s there?” I ask, fitting my eye to the peephole.
It’s Mother. She’s standing in the hallway wearing a lemon yellow power suit as if she were a thirty-year-old businesswoman instead of fifty and happily out of work. I pull the door open and she thrusts a package at me. “Here, my love,” she says. I take the package and set it on the nightstand to open later.
“So what brings you here, Mom?” I ask. It’s not often that I see her. Soon after we discovered my talent, Jan rigged it so Mom took out a large insurance policy. Then I stepped off a curb and was smashed by a bus. There was a dead body, so the insurance company had to pay up. I lost my legal identity, but we were able to give Mom lots of money. Now she spends most of her time in the air, flying from the Caribbean to Europe to Asia. She took care of my father before he died — stomach cancer — so we felt she deserved a rest.
“I need an excuse to visit my boy?” she says. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“No, Mom,” I laugh. I stuff my hands in my pockets and stare at my bare feet. The carpet here is almond, not pink like the Flamingo, which pleases me.
She hugs me but doesn’t have time to chat. She has a plane to catch. “I hear you and Jan are planning a last performance?”
“Jan’s planning it,” I correct her. “I’m sitting here wondering what she’s planning.”
“Well, dear, Jan is very good at these things. Just let her take care of it. You should get out while you’re here, have some fun. Live a little.”
I look up when she says this. For a moment I think she’s Jan.
“What?” she says. “Why are you looking at me like that?! Oh, Aiden, you’re too flighty. Take a pill.”
I don’t mention that I once took a lot of pills, or that that exhibition paid off my father’s hospital bills. I don’t say anything because only one person is allowed to be a martyr, the same way no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. I abdicate to my mother whenever possible; if I didn’t, she’d steal the role. She has a story she tells about my father’s funeral. At the dinner afterwards, at the church, she looked up from her plate of food and saw herself in a mirror across the room. She was sitting in the middle of a long table, Jan on one side, me on the other, a flock of relatives stretched out beside us. Her head was tilted to one side and she saw how she looked unimaginably hurt. “Betrayed,” is how she puts it, and knew right then how it must have been for Jesus at the Last Supper. “That poor man,” she says, “always trying to help others, and what did he get? He should have learned. I have.”
After she’s flown away, I open her gift. It’s a glass globe and inside it is a miniature island village, palm trees staked at each corner of the island. It looks like it would be hot there. A hot place. I shake it and snow falls over the village. Snowflakes pile up on the palm leaves. There’s a card, too, with an inscription: “Saw this and thought of you, dear. Had to buy it. Hope your grand finale goes off well. Alas, I won’t be attending. Those things are so gruesome. Hugs, Mom.”
I sit on the end of the bed and put my head in my hands and try not move or to make any sounds. If I can do that, I can do anything. It takes a few minutes, but I finally begin to not feel my own body. Then I can’t hear. Then I can’t see either. It’s a difficult task, but it helps to burn through the hours of waiting.
“It’s time,” says Jan. She’s arrived wearing a black leather outfit and too much perfume. Already the room’s begun to smell like a Chanel factory and I can’t stop thinking there’s a cat burglar going through my closet instead of my sister.
“Time?” I say. “Time?”
“To go,” Jan says. “The limo’s waiting.”
“A limo,” says Jan. “Can’t you respond with anything but questions? Saying ‘hi’ never occurred to you? We have to go.”
So we go. As we leave Jan stops and pays the bill, tells the desk clerk we won’t be returning. She tips him twenty dollars and he says it’s been a pleasure. Come back soon.
The limo is long and sleek, a black bullet waiting by the curbside. Evening light flickers over it. Inside it’s cool and air-conditioned, a relief from the heat. I sit on one seat and Jan sits opposite. She mixes a drink. Then pulls a cigarette pack from her purse and shuffles one out, lights it, inhales as though she’s drinking water. I watch the column of her throat move and imagine the smoke traveling down into her lungs, the nicotine sifting into her blood, calming her.
“Since when do you smoke?”
“I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, okay?” She runs her fingers through her hair. “It wasn’t easy, arranging things for tonight.”
“So what are the plans for tonight?”
Jan smiles, satisfied with herself. She lifts the whiskey to her lips.
“Tonight,” says Jan, “we are giving the greatest show on earth. Nothing can top this. But I’d rather not tell you what it is just yet. Your own surprise will heighten the audience’s. They’ve paid quite a bit of money.” Jan rubs her thumb and forefinger together. “Crème de la crème,” she says.
“I don’t know about this,” I say. “I mean — ”
“What?” Jan interrupts. “Just what do you mean, Aiden? What’s not to know? This is it. You can’t wimp out now.”
I nod and nod. I know, Jan. I didn’t mean anything by it, Jan. I tell her the usual things to smooth her over, then pour myself a whiskey and drink it in one swallow.
We arrive at dusk at an abandoned warehouse near the ocean. I can’t see any water, but I hear waves collapsing on a beach. Salt scents the air. Jan and I make our way toward the little door that opens into the warehouse.
The parking lot is filled to capacity with automobiles, buses, taxis. On the horizon I glimpse a sliver of red lowering itself down to the other side of the world. Amber light darkens by the minute. Jan puts her hand on my back, guiding me toward the entrance. She whispers words of encouragement, and between her words and the amber light, a memory of my father surfaces.
It was when he was still healthy, before he was sick; or if he was already sick, he wasn’t saying. The cancer was still a secret buried in his flesh. We were sitting outside, catching our breath after a jog together. The sun was bright in our eyes. Clouds passed over and the world would be covered in shadow, then this amber light would return. It went on like that, light then dark, light then dark, and finally my father told me that people don’t always have a choice in the matter of things like light or dark, or living or dying. But they have to make decisions when choices can be made. He put my face in his hands and held me together. I almost cried at what he was saying. I knew. I knew right then what he was saying.
It was afterwards, after his suicide to stop the pain he and my family were going through, then after my own, that I forgot everything he told me.
Jan swings the door open and a blast of heat hits me. The inside is lit by hundreds of candles. Bleachers line the walls. And in the center of everything, something stands shrouded in a red velvet curtain. The curtain sways a little, as if something large is breathing behind it. As we enter, the audience cheers.
They are spectacularly beautiful tonight, wearing tuxedoes and gowns and jewels. A small, nut-brown woman with a red dot on her forehead brushes her hand against me as I pass her. A touch, just a touch, to feel my power. Maybe it will rub off, they think. And if it doesn’t, let him die, he deserves it, keeping a talent like that to himself. Who does he think he is?
A good question. But already Jan’s voice is filling the warehouse, interrupting my answer. She uses a microphone to introduce me. “Everyone, put your hands together to welcome my very own little brother, the one and only Resurrection Artist!” she shouts. “The only one known to be alive at this time,” she adds a second later, then laughs at her attempt at humor. Some of the audience chuckles. They’ll laugh to grease her, anything to get this show moving.
Two heavily-muscled men wearing tuxedoes stand on either side of the red velvet curtain, holding a braided gold rope in their hands. Jan turns to them and shouts, “Here is the medium of death!” and the men pull the rope until the shroud lifts to reveal a large kiln with a fire roaring inside it. One of the men swings the gate open, a gate large enough for a man to step inside. The fire lifts and enlarges.
Jan motions for me to approach, and I do. Each step is like walking through water though, that slow trudge, but finally I stand before it and think, Is this what I want? What about my body? If it burns, will I still come back? Do I need a body to return to? There’s so much we don’t know. I’ve always had one before, even if it was bloody and battered.
The audience rises to its feet. When they stand to cheer I feel as though I should be in the Coliseum, preparing to battle a lion. Or in the corner of a boxing ring, an announcer calling out the names and win-loss ratios of each opponent. I’m in one corner, but who is in the other?
I look into the kiln, that gold and red waiting for my body, and see Jan at first. Then it isn’t Jan, but my mother standing in the fire. Then my dead father, his eyes sunken and hollow, his flesh white and mushroom rotten. Then I see the reflection of the audience cheering behind me. Then I don’t see any of them, but myself. I walk out of the kiln, licks of flame rolling off my skin like drops of water. Ding, ding, ding. We stare and stare at each other, then move toward the center, fists ready.
I turn to find Jan running back and forth in front of the bleachers, waving her hands, stirring the crowd into a frenzy. She’s good at that sort of thing. I wait until she turns to give me a brief moment of attention and shout, “Call it off.”
Jan’s eyes narrow. She taps a finger on her ear: What did you say?
I repeat myself slowly so she can read my lips, and when she begins to understand, a shadow spreads over her face. She marches over, puts an arm around my shoulder and says, “Aiden, what the hell are you doing? These people have already paid.”
“Send them away,” I say. “Tell them I’m not dying. Whatever it takes, you can handle it.”
“You little — I ought to kill you myself.” Jan removes her arm and points a finger in my face. “How could you? How else are you going to live?”
To live. Isn’t that the question? How to live? I’ve never answered it. I only know how to die. How to wait until the next death.
“I don’t know,” I tell her. “But I want to find out.”
Jan folds her arms across her chest and shakes her head, astonished. I don’t flinch, although I want to. I walk away and step out into the night. The audience titters and whispers. “What is going on here?!” a woman shouts.
I shut the door behind me and walk to the back of the building, sit down among shattered beer bottles. My legs stretch out in front of me and I stare at them, thinking, Those are my legs. I find them more interesting than I should probably.
Within an hour, the crowd disperses. The car engines turn over, the tires peel, the annoyed voices grow fewer. Finally, Jan finds me around back.
“Are you proud of yourself?” she asks. I nod. “Well I hope you’re happy. I am no longer your sister. And don’t think Mother won’t hear about this. What would Dad say?”
She walks away, but I’m not concerned any longer. Jan will forgive me if it’s possible. And if it isn’t possible, I’ll learn to live without her.
Suddenly I see a figure lurching toward me from the next lot over. After a moment the figure becomes a man, and then he stops, his tennis shoes scraping the asphalt next to me.
“You see the resurrection?” he asks, scratching his face.
“There wasn’t one,” I tell him. “It didn’t go off.”
“That’s too bad. I wanted to see it. Something like that, the power to come back to life — I wonder what it’s like. But that chick I phoned for tickets was asking way too much.”
He’s grunged out, the knees of his jeans ripped, a bruise on one cheek, a cut on his forehead. “Why would you want to see that?” I ask. “It isn’t the most pleasant thing, dying.”
“It’s the comeback,” he says. “That’s what’s appealing.” He coughs and lights a cigarette. The end glows red then orange in the dark.
The comeback, I think. Yes, that’s it. Life, life. The beat of a heart, the break of a wave on the beach. What a plunge. What a lark to live for even one day.
“It isn’t too late,” I say. His face screws up, his nose wrinkling in confusion. I lead him to the warehouse where the candles have all been put out, the bleachers emptied of human breathing. The kiln still glows. “Here is your resurrection,” I tell him, not your death. I move toward the kiln, fidgeting, wondering what kind of fate the flames hold for me. I imagine myself a skeleton that turns to ash, then to dust. A wind comes along and blows me across the cosmos. I open the gate and the fire breathes heavy, a welcoming kiss.
I tell myself when I return this time I will be a bird of fire, holding a rose in my burning talons. I will stand before him then, this audience of one, whose face glows from my flames, whose skin flushes from my heat. And maybe, just maybe he’ll say it was terrible to see me burning like that, but also how it was a beautiful thing. Not a rush, but a moment of grace. I will bow to him then, and begin again. This time for keeps. I will lay the rose at his feet.