pyrefire (Part 1)
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"There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man."

Cynthia finally folded over the corner of the page she had been fiddling with for the past minute. Placing the book down reluctantly, she rolled over in her bed to face the window.

She took her phone off the charger and scrolled to Grant's name. She hesitated. Tell him you're sick, that you can't turn up for work, that you're not feeling like coming right now because you don't want to keep working with Mary. But she couldn't. Why?

Because you're afraid, she thought. She already knew how to conversation would go: "Yes, Boss, I feel better already. I'll be at work in an hour." She pulled back her finger that was hovering above the call button and switched off her phone. Cynthia breathed in sharply.

Running her hands down her face, she got ready for work.



"Hey Mom, how are you?"

Without waiting for a reply, she took out her lipstick and applied it on her puckered lips.

"Sweetie, you don't have to come everyday," Cynthia's mother chided her sarcastically.

"It's my duty, mom."

"But… isn't it a burden to always come visit me?"

"No, stop worrying about me. We've already talked about this before."

Cynthia capped her lipstick, punctuating the conversation with a small click. There was something in the air, a palpable tension between the two women, a chasm only they could perceive. Has it always been like this? Was it some sort of twisted filial piety that kept obligating her to visit? Cynthia wondered.

In the silence, she wanted to uncap the bottled dissatisfaction she had been feeling, she so badly wanted to ask her mother, "How would it be, if I quit my job for a while? How would it be, if I just let it all go, let you go? How would it be, if I just stayed alone in a place where no one could bother me? How would it be, if. Just if… " Yet, she couldn't.

Thus, Cynthia's lips stayed pursed.

"Oh! Yes, your dad came by just now. He left some flowers for you."

Those flowers were from Dave, the leech who sucked the life off her mother, and it hurt just to look at them. Cynthia's vision started getting blurry. She blinked hard a few times and held back on her urge to just let out a sob, because she knew that sob would lead to one more, than another, and so on.

"He came around to talk and we had a little chat. He's doing well, aren't you glad he is?"

"Mom, I told you. I don't wanna talk about Dave. I've got other things to care about than that shitty excuse for a father."

"Don't talk about my husband like that!"

"What had he ever done for you? How can you put up with his bullshit when he's leaving you to rot in this place? If it wasn't for him, you'd be at home, and I wouldn't have to worry about taking care of you!"

The ward went silent, as if time stopped. The birds outside stopped chirping and the trees they were perched on stopped rustling. Cynthia cursed herself, she didn't mean to say it. Immediately regretting it, she looked up at her mother.

Her mother's face was cast down to her bony hands. She looked so frail, eroded by the turmoil she endured raising a child by herself. Cynthia's chest ached. She was a terrible person. Who was she to be so entitled to think that her sick mother could care about her issues? Burdening her mother wasn't something Cynthia wanted to do, another thing she didn't want on her mind. She had to do something to recover the situation.

"Look, mom, I'm so-"

"It's 7:24 already, don't you have work? You should head off now, I'll be fine on my own," Cynthia's mother said, all the while still averting her gaze.

"…Alright. I'll see you tomorrow," Cynthia whispered tersely. Waving to her mother, she walked out of the ward.



What were those flowers going to do? Cover the expenses for the medical bills? How long had it been since Cynthia was this bothered about Dave, about work, about anything for that matter? Why had she shouted at her mother?

Slipping through the other passengers in the cabin, she managed to secure a spot in one corner of the train. Tilting her head backwards, she squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe she had been doing it wrong all this time by compartmentalising her feelings in a derelict shelf somewhere in her heart, and it was for the best if she faced the memories head on. When did she last meet Dave? She tried hard to remember.

Two years ago was the last time she saw Dave.

She remembered it was a cold day, she was heading back home after her overtime was finished. She was looking forward to dinner.

It was a Christmas.

Home! Finally! Opening the door, she saw them

Mom and dad Dave, both sitting at the round table in the middle of the living room.

There was a small Christmas tree that had yet to be decorated and a few boxes strewn across the floor, spilling wrappers and string lights all over the mat.

Mom was handing something over to Dave.

Something. What?

Yes, there was something in the envelope

Right, it was money. She saw Dave snatching it from her mother, ripping open the envelope and immediately start counting the bills inside.

Dave had visited on Christmas.

For money.

Again.

Cynthia stormed out, she remembered running out into the rain as her vision blurred.

Was it from the rain or her tears? She had a feeling it was the latter. It was warmer than the frosty needles that landed on her as she ran across the street, away from her home, away from him.

The pitter-patter of the rain was like a chorus of mismatched melodies, harmonising with her small little feet as they ran away from a problem she didn't want to deal with.

That's all they're good for, running away.

She tasted bile rising in the back of her throat.

Her name, someone was calling. Ignore them, ignore them, ignore him.

What had Dave done for them? Why was mom always so hung up on providing for him? Cynthia didn't get it. To be altruistic while disregarding oneself, a principle her mother followed religiously and a rule that was imposed upon Cynthia. She groaned, her head aching from the unpleasant memory. There was a heat in her chest, a gnawing hotness that grinded away at the rest of her body.

Back in the train, Cynthia was exhausted. There was nothing good that came from revisiting old memories; they left her emotionally exhausted. Leaning her head against the train wall, Cynthia drifted off into sleep.



Cynthia's hands felt so unwieldy and slow. They felt like they belonged to another person; her hands had a brain of their own, with a conscience and curiosity in each chubby finger. She willed her short legs forward and grasped the hem of the giant woman beside her. Cynthia's vision shifted as her stiff head pulled itself up to try to see the face of that woman. There was a click and a small whir.

Only then did she realise they were in front of a car, and someone had just got in. A giant man. That man. The woman and man waved at each other. He looked directly at Cynthia, yet she still couldn't make out any features of the blank slate of his face. The uncomfortable gaze of that man lingered for a while longer, before the car drove off.

The woman lifted Cynthia up, and they entered the house. In the house, Cynthia seemed to have recovered some of her dexterity. She found herself running around a table, humming little joyful nothings as she was chased around by her imaginary friend, a little heart lit up by the tiny flames that sprang off of it. Cynthia noticed her mother's door slightly ajar. Curious, she peeked into the small room. She tracked the dust particles illuminated by the orange evening light, following them as they danced happily about the room until they settled on the white blankets of the bed.

On the bed her mother lay, really quite beautiful in her memory. An angular face and big round, warm eyes. But nothing could hide those sunken cheeks, the two emaciated hands laying hanging off the sides of the small bed and the brown crystals buried in her eye sockets.

Cynthia stood very still and very straight as she listened to the shallow breaths of her sick mother by the doorway. The seconds ticked by as the sun set behind the buildings, as the orange faded into a comforting, yet cold, black. Making up her mind, she pushed open the door slowly and meekly, afraid to intrude upon the only time her mother could rest.

"Mummy?"

"Yeah, sweetie?" Cynthia's mother rolled over, and met her gaze warmly.

"Why do you push yourself to work more?"

"…Come here." Her mother propped herself up on one stilt-like hand as she beckoned Cynthia into an embrace.

"I need to work for all three of us. Your dad's hopeless, and it's the least I can do to provide for you two."

"But daddy left us so long ago."

Her mother bit her lips. In the darkness, there was a tiny sliver of light, the most miniscule amount of light that reflected off her mother's averted gaze. The gaze staring out the window behind Cynthia, looking through and not at her.

"Do you still remember that song I always sang you? All people have a light~" A soft whisper carried by the dancing dust.

"In them~ Some people, their little fire, is close to going out~" Cynthia closed her eyes and sang the rest of the lyrics proudly. Eventually, the two lonely voices of mother and daughter intertwined in the featureless night.

"So it is our duty, the people with brighter light~ Brighter fires~ To share some of our love and kindness with them. Our duty~ It is our duty~ for us, to pass on a little of our fire to them~ To the ones, with little fire~ To the ones, with little kindness and love."

Cynthia squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them, the dullness and haziness had disappeared. She looked at her mother who was laying on the bed. Her mother smiled. Cynthia wordlessly crawled into the bed and curled up into her mother's lap. She started sobbing silently, singing the ode to herself.

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