The sky is listless this morning, void of color as I peer out the dust-covered window. A breeze blows across the dry golden-brown weeds. I watch as they sway and swirl in the fields. Through the passage of time, I have watched the luminescent sun set and rise in the bleak sky with longing. I miss the laughter that once filled the air. Memories of children at play burn through my thoughts and consume my restless dreams. I had a purpose when they were here, but the toys have been hushed and the walls silenced. The worn and cracked brick chimney is an empty place that houses cooled embers. They are a constant reminder of a time long past. My chest rises and falls with each breath I take. My body shudders. I sigh because I am left here alone to live my life in a sanctuary of solitude, which shrouds me in silence.
Memories, the life vein of my world invade my conscious mind. Susie’s pink and white sundress sway in my mind’s eye. When I close my lids, I visualize the cotton fabric as it swishes in the air. She twirls around the manicured lawn under the golden afternoon sun. Her laughter fills the air and makes my heart swell with love and affection.
Sammy’s new blue sled, the one he hurt his knee on during the first snow of the season now stands faded against the wall. Vivid memories of his boyish laughter echo through my thoughts. My lips curl upward into a smile as I recall his delicate head tilted back. With his mouth wide open, he enjoys the taste of each unique snowflake that dances in the air. They melt upon his pink tongue. I sigh then take in a deep, long breath. My chest constricts as my heart breaks into a thousand shards. It does not help to scream because my cries of anguish fall upon an empty valley at the foot of the hills.
I ponder the question, “Am I truly alone?”
My heart quickens and my mind races with anticipation, “Hello,” I cry out. My voice is dry and cracks.
“Eee errr Eeee errrrr.”
My ears twitch. They strain to locate the cause of the single sweet sound that breaks through the silent afternoon air, but soon I am let-down by a familiar sound. The floor shifts and groans in response to old age.
My heart is heavy laden with the burden I carry like armor on an injured knight in battle. I suck in the dry air, sigh once more, and state, “I am truly alone!”
Wistful thoughts cloud my mind. Cherished memories rush forward like a flood on the shore of a beach at high tide. I remember. I remember the town up the road. The jubilant voices and sounds of life perfectly orchestrated into a classical piece of music. My mind takes me back, back to another time.
Mr. Jensen’s painted pony, Ms. Penny, prances down the single lane road. She pulls the wooden wagon. The wheels roll in the deep groves. They wear down the ruts even further into the yielding earth. The wagon stops in front of the feed store. Ms. Penny bobs her Appaloosa spotted head up and down. She neighs for the attention, which she knows will be showered upon her with unconditional love.
Little Susie emerges from the heavy wooden doors of a shop. Her cheeks are rosy, and her skin is white as snow. The honey-kissed curls on top of her head bounce in the wind as she skips gracefully down the wooden stairs. She stops in her tracks. Then, she turns around and runs back up.
“Bye, Olivia,” little Susie says. She opens her arms out in front of her for a hug. “I had fun.”
“Me too,” replies a brunette little girl dressed in a plain poka-dotted dress. Her slender hand waves a red, juicy apple in the air as she giggles. “It’s for Ms. Penny.”
“Ms. Penny,” Susie says in a sing-song voice. She takes the apple from Olivia’s hand. Her voice is sweet, like the fragrant smell of the fresh flowers growing down the in the valley.
“Come, Susie,” her father says. The corners of his lips curl upward into a big smile.
“Oh, please, Papa. I must first give Ms. Penny her treat. I promised her this morning. I promised.”
Ms. Penny’s nose sniffs out the delectable red apple. Susie holds her hand out for the painted pony to nibble gently on the succulent smelling fruit. When the pony is finished, Susie adjusts the leather harness as she combs the silky mane down around Ms. Penny’s ears with her fingers.
“Mama is waiting for us. She and Sammy have something special for you.”
Susie’s dress swishes as her father picks her up. She squeals in delight, “Papa is it for me? Is it just for me?”
He embraces her. Strong arms hold her, and he says, “Yes. My Little Susie! It is for you.”
Her lashes flutter as she lowers her head and smiles. A thin shadow casts across her warm rosy cheeks as she says, “I want to blow out my candles this year. Please, Papa. Please, tell Sammy I am big enough this year. I can do it all by myself. I can blow out all five.”
“We will tell him, my dear,” Papa replies as he sits little Susie down on the worn seat of the buggy. In one fluid motion, he climbs up and sits next to her.
My memories shift, and I am once again brought back to the reality of the cold, harsh world. The one that I am forced to face alone. With a heavy heart, I file my memory of little Susie in my vault of thoughts and wipe away a single, solitary tear.
The day my life forever changed was marked and marred by the silence that led to the ghastly ghost town down the road. I watched in horror as each and every individual life force faded into oblivion. The life I once warmed with the crimson glow of my flame flickered and slowly burned out. Fear consumed me back then and now makes my heart race and beat erratic. Life, it has all been but extinguished. I miss my family. I miss little Susie. I miss Ms. Penny, Sammy, Mama, and Papa. They were all part of me, my one single reason to live and burn bright for all to see.
I am not exactly sure when I became one, independent of my family, my colony. Void of community, fully self-aware. My flame, it still flickers. It dances to the memories of a better time. In tears, I weep alone and in desolation. On the valley below the hills, I live with the cold embers. I am a single vestige of fire that longs to burn bright once more; I am the last flickering survivor of the black plague.