Forever is in the Ashes - A Response to Bill Holland's Writing Challenge.
"How may you contain a lifetime of mirth in the girth of a garland…? My devotion to you abides by no constraints." Her words airily resounded, as her hazel eyes opened from the deep languor of his soul, to lovingly gaze at the withered wreath in his feeble hands. He felt her dainty fingers sweep past the calloused hardness of his, to reach out and caress the riven foliage intertwining the years in the crevices of the wreath. He carefully placed a dew stunned white carnation with a tremulous drift, amongst a myriad of wilted flowers studding the ageless ring, and centered it over the heart of a stone fireplace, standing lonesome in the midst of nowhere. “Another year…” he whispered, and felt a warmth surround his heart as her memory smiled at him from the past.
John breathed to sift the mellow autumn air and almost relived the arid scent of smoke. He surrendered the banal pursuit of composure and staggered to the ground as his frail limbs splayed across the scorched earth. Tresses of grey hair fluttered to striate his vision, as he tilted his gaze to behold the sentinel of a life once lived. Garnished with the wreath of dreams once woven.
John still remembered the blessed day six decades deep in his past, when he had aimlessly wandered to a country fair at the outskirts of Joplin, Missouri. His youthful countenance and robust stature owing to hard work at the land, was the emblem of farming in the 20th century. He recalled the hustle and vivacious chortle of passersby, singing tales of revival as the wounds were healing and fruitage was repleting, after the end of the second world war.
He remembered how time had stood still, in similitude with his heart, when their eyes first met. Amidst a convention of floral embellishments, she was poised in bloom and incomparable beatitude at a stall of flowers. John could still feel the warmth of those hazel eyes that thawed the carcass of his solitude, and the mellifluous voice that versed the unsung sonnet of his soul. Unbeknownst to him, his strides had carried him in her direction in alignment with the urge of his biased heart. Awestruck and addled, his gaze had fumbled and fallen upon a carefully placed wreath of earthen boughs woven with a coalescence of wild carnations.
“Such is the adornment I sought, and have found” He heard his maladroit voice utter. She had smiled and handed him the wreath while her fingers softly brushed against the flesh of his hands, and etched a trail on the pinion of his soul. John fathomed in that moment, life as he had known before meeting Alvina, ceased to exist in the realms of time.
John had dreamt of life in an abode where the country moonlight would seep through their windows while the rustling willows lulled them to sleep. Where the midsummer sun would rise upon the expanse of their fortitude, and set in the purlieus of their serene backyard. After a rugged season of drenched gear and soil stung limbs, John was able to beckon the affluence to conform that dream. He bought a 19th century log house centered upon fifty acres of fecund land. The land he brought his bride home to.
John remembered as it were yesterday. The valley monsoon eve, brindled with the soft chirp of crickets, and the silhouette of Alvina yards away from the statuesque fireplace. She had stood still as a figurine, clad in the ebbs and flows of her wedding dress. Her long hair so sable against the ivory of her skin, and her beautiful eyes anchored on the furnace. “The wreath…" was all she could say as her heart whimsically twirled with the spin in her gait, to reveal a radiant smile on her face. The wreath that had marked their moment in antiquity, was placidly hung above the glow of the embers, centered at the heart of the colossal fireplace.
“The wreath shall hold semblance to our love, surrounding our hearts for eternity.” John had looked into the adoring eyes of his wife while he pledged a lifetime of endless love.
“How may you contain a lifetime of mirth in the girth of a garland…? My devotion to you abides by no constraints.” Alvina had softly whispered as her hands caressed the mesh of sprigs, occasionally tangled with a floral entity.
“Allow me to nurture this wreath with my love, and you may see it grow, not in expanse but in embodiment. Each year I shall place a new flower in it’s lattice, symbolizing a landmark in our journey.”
John could never forget the calmness that grew on her face as she heard his words. The hazel of her eyes, an abysmal carmine in the blaze of the fire.
“My love for you is like the fire, that burns forever… with a sheen no depths of darkness can abate, and a fierceness no confines of time can tarnish.” He had solemnly whispered as they watched the flames surge from the cavern in the furnace.
“Love me not as fierce as the fire that burns and dies, consuming all in its reach. Love me as what transcends from the fire, prevails and finds permanency. Forever is not in the flames; forever is in the ashes.” She had whispered back.
On that note, the beautiful journey of life unfolded. The dusks and dawns that brought with them, the treasure of moments endorsed by the seasons. Days rolled into months and months into a year, when John had placed a white carnation in the apex of the wreath. The first milestone in a lifetime of love he had promised. As the second year of matrimonial bliss commenced, they learned of a miracle coming their way, Alvina was with child. They had founded a little piece of heaven on earth.
John felt his eyelids quaver as images of that night flashed before the murky grey of his senescent eyes.
He had received news of his ailing uncle, the only relation John had known in his life. “I must leave but will return before the crack of the dawn.” He had promised his benevolent wife and embarked upon a journey to the west. Later in the depths of that night, Alvina had sojourned by the side of the furnace, crocheting a delicate wrap for their unborn child when slumber took over. Winds of the equinox had blown through the windows and mingled with the yarn reeling it into the fire; setting ablaze the cord that led to the unfinished wrap… and everything else it followed.
Fire; consumed all in its reach.
John had departed from the house that harbored all he had possessed in this world. The wreath that was to bear the blossom of a lifetime, the wife he was to environ with his love for eternity, the child he was yet to hold and nurture in his arms… All that stood in place of his abode was the stone chimney. Had he been woken from a dream, was that bliss a bare figment of his imagery…? he had wondered. But a dream it was not; as ashes lay strewed, lamenting tales of the dreamlike reality he had once lived.
John faltered in his reverie, as tears rolled from his eyes and trickled along the furrows in his ashen skin. “Another year” he whispered, as he removed the wreath from the fireplace remembering how he had forlornly walked to a florist, and had left with a wreath clasped in one hand against his heart, and a white carnation in the other. He had promised Alvina, their love would grow with the years.
John gazed at the wreath through the mist of his tears, cradled like a baby in the hollow of his lap. He had been placing a flower in it each year while he hung it above the charred fireplace. And for a brief moment, the banished chimney in the rustic terrain, would transform into the life he had envisaged in the confines of his house, echoing with Alvina’s mellifluous voice and the vibrant laughter of his unborn child. Every year… for sixty years. But he always removed the wreath as he left, for it was his sole accomplice… his only possession.
John cautiously ascended from the ground, looking one last time at the raven gape where a fire had once burned and consumed all it touched. But what it could not consume was his love that had seethed and writhed with each flicker, to emerge as a relic of permanence.
He turned to reiterate his journey along the quelled and trodden paths as he heard her soft whisper, “Forever is not in the flames; forever is in the ashes.”
© 2015 Sara Sarwar Riaz