On Fire, But Not Burning


Melanie is the product of somebody’s imagination, a character in a story still being written. As she develops – as she is being developed – she begins to question her existence in between her maker’s writing sessions. Why can’t she remember her childhood? What do the blank spaces mean? Why does she not feel free in the world? And, most importantly, what if she wrote a book where the main character is far better, stronger and more beautiful than she could ever be? After all, books are written all the time, and always for the same reason, she suspects.

Melanie didn’t like her name. She thought it sounded too much like ‘melody’ and she didn’t like music either. She had no idea why. People are often told that their likes and dislikes are strongly connected with their fears, but she didn’t buy it. She couldn’t name anything she was afraid of that came with a soundtrack.

It all went through her like white noise, a slightly irritating sound – like a mosquito buzzing in the dark – that she wanted to push away as quickly as she could. Melanie thought of herself as strange for lacking a refined sensibility and love for musical complexity that everybody else seemed to possess, and did her best to hide it. She often thought that she should have studied music harder when she was little, but she couldn’t quite remember herself as a little girl; and this was another thing she did her best to hide.

Most of the time, Melanie’s expression said ‘I am still here but I am already gone’. Some found her mysterious and provocative and learned to like that stare, like a dark hint. Others found her gentle-souled, but didn’t take her stare for a hint. There was nothing behind it. No inner force of the mind shaking the thunder from the skies, no creative courage of the young heart, no play in her eyes, no fire. Just dry logs. Poetic as it might seem in retrospect, in the moment it was just ugly and exhausting to be Melanie.

The tiredness only made room for more of the same. She often wanted to detach herself from her body, fast and loud, like a car crash. Run out of her skin and bones and muscles and fat and nerves and let it all fall out on the floor, like a piece of clothing she’d been waiting to take off, fold up and never put on again. So rough it felt and so badly she wanted to scratch it off, but she couldn’t tell anyone that, for people generally looked comfortable with how they’d turned out. Melanie’s body, however, felt like a strange thing she seemed to have picked up in a hurry on her way to becoming, in the wrong size and dullest colour.

But her emotional landscape – ah, that made for a whole different story – was a minefield. Vivid like colours and juicy at first, the enormous monsters crept in at times and broke her inner mechanisms and ate her heart alive. Or, at least, that was the only way she could make sense of the seizures. There must have been battles like that inside.

Melanie couldn’t decide if they were friends or if she wanted them dead on the floor, choked with chunks of her heart stuck in their throats after trying to take over like that. It began with someone reaching inside her and tugging at all the wires, then moving the whole party there. The first kind of pain was liberation, which barely felt like pain at all, but more like a lightness all through her body from the blows. Then she would fall asleep and wake up moments later with her extremities ice-cold, her mind razor-sharp, and a strange flavour in her mouth.

At the bottom of her body there was a little girl in a tall transparent container, no lid. She was always little and always screaming at what Melanie could somehow swear it was the same monsters. Her arms hugged her knees, her knees kissed her chest, and her entire body rocked back and forth like a carousel horse in an abandoned park.

Melanie knew her because she came towards her in full speed many times, followed by fumbling on the floor. She could peer through the fish bowl and watch the little girl circle herself for a little while, but never for long. Soon it would get dark and moist and sticky all around, and she would desperately try to flip a switch, cut a cord, break her skin, float up so she didn’t feel this drowned anymore. Then she’d fall through, every time, no exceptions.

Both the duration and the intensity of it all made it hard to put two and two together once on the other side. Melanie was usually just glad she made it somewhere else. She got used to seeing the little girl in agony after a few times, so she mostly shook her head, chin in her chest, promising herself not to try to go again the next time she hears her. The little girl was not real and she knew it, despite the magnetic pull to see more. One knows when the reality they almost believe in is merely a product of their imagination.

Her only fear was that one day she’d struggle to tell the difference, so often the seizures took place. They weren’t scary at all, apart from the beginning. The dreams they brought to life – or the life they brought her to – were always the same. She was stuck in some kind of a sweet short coma, carried away to a place where life hadn’t blossomed yet but was going to any minute. The near-emptiness and sense of possibility made it a nice experience, after all.

You know that place between sleep and awake where you’re still dreaming, but it’s slowly slipping? That was how it felt. Melanie felt light but connected, like the one drop of water on the side of the hurricane slowly dissolving into the storm. There was no fighting, no resistance. She wanted it all for as long as she was there. It was only in real life, dear life, that she reflected on it and despised its force, because she couldn’t understand it. While on the hurricane’s side, she was one with it. Almost one with it.

It was always hazy and covered in floating ice in there. In fact, Melanie was probably floating too, but she couldn’t see a thing in sight. She couldn’t even see her own body – which made for a nice change and thus, despite the ice, Melanie was never cold. Whatever she was made of in these strange dreams was completely invisible and blocked out all feeling. The only thing coming from her was the occasional smoke rising from the spot where her heart would have been, but strong winds coming from every direction at once seemed to put out the invisible fire.

Melanie, too, doubted its existence in real life; but in there she loved her fire with the fiery force of knowing that everything is impermanent. She knew she was going back to hating its absence soon, but for a little while she could delight in knowing it was only dormant. She might have been small and smooth with soft edges and a tired look, an obedient lapdog in her slap-in-the-face life, but in the bizarre dreams her creative lunatic self seemed to have created she was the magnificent beast. Almost one with it.

When she came back her memories of the dark side of the world were like dreams fading at the edges when you shake off the night. She spread silence on toast, thick and crunchy and spiced with nostalgia, ate it with big bites and waited patiently for the damned devils to turn the magic on again. Much as she wanted to battle the uninvited guests forcing themselves onto her, she always fell asleep on a prayer. May they never give me peace…

For peace meant tossing and turning, living and bleeding until the secret chamber of the heart was opened once again, a monstrous, merciless ocean wave of nothingness washing over her existence. These breaks from life taught Melanie the importance of elsewhere, of something-like-this-but-not-this, of how losing her religion could feel so much like coming home to a different time and a different space where she could go to be whom she couldn’t be anywhere else.

And there was another thing. Melanie didn’t believe in the little girl, but what if the little girl believed in Melanie? Melanie would have shaken her head in disbelief again, only it wasn’t so easy in the real world. The visions had claws here, long after they were gone.

to be continued

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