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2020 Equity Initiative Winner

Seadrah Berger

My eyes itch and burn from the smoke. The innocent tendrils tangle irritatingly around the strands of my hair as my steps lurch across the deck, lungs heaving, dog collar clutched between my fingers as I lead her fear-stricken gait out to the cool, clean air of the night.

My mind is numbingly blank and dulled; I barely register the shadowy figures of my dad and sister that appear in front of me. They are exchanging words that reek of panic, and I hear a phone beep out the three dial tones of what I assume to be 911. An insidious crackling follows the heat wave at my back, and yet I shiver in the dark. It’s so incredibly late, as the sky is a deep purple, and yet the milky way is nowhere in sight. My hand twists in the collar for a moment before it releases from its grip, and Blue rushes forward in a clumsy stumble to greet my dad and sister where they stand, the pair still coughing words at and around me that fall dully past my blind ears to the dry grass below.

A thought taps my mind, a bothersome thought that leads me back onto the deck, pushing my way through the clouded doorway only moments after it pervades my brain. The black and white image that entered my mind was one I could not push away, and built a sense of urgency in my stride that carried me far away from the crispness of nightfall, back into the flame-stricken one story building; once my home, and now a crumbling inferno. It may be better, I rationalize, that I act before I think—otherwise I might not have the courage to rescue the artwork that is so dear to me.

Luckily, my house is quaint, and I only need to walk straight to reach the wall on which it is displayed. My feet are soft and bare, and the ground is built of coals, but envisioning the stark contrast of sharpie, the luminescence of the man on the moon, drives me forwards. I’m a blind worm wriggling through this unfamiliar oven, not taking so much as a breath, but at last I hit a wall, and my hands shoot out in their clawing search. The ridges of the frame peek out from the flatness of the backdrop, and I rip it off with little resistance.

I can’t feel my feet as I turn and stumble back the way I came, and the fact that I have been holding my breath since the moment I entered begins to fill my stiff lungs with panic. But my mind stays calm; I’m on my way out, and I have what I long for.

The artwork is wider than it is tall, a lengthy landscape my dad manufactured on a crisp white paper. He doesn’t do art anymore, as work takes up all of his time and energy, so his creativity has fallen to the back burner. It makes this work all the more special. It is his favorite, and mine, and my sister’s. A sad lady is draped across the sky, with the blazing sun above her and moon below her, with the tears leaking out of her eyes landing on a man fishing off of the moon below. On her back lies a pisces symbol. The sky of the night portion is filled in with sharpie, which must have taken ages for him to do. It is the last piece I have of his creativity, an artistic rendering of the event that split our family apart. And it is safe, in my hands, as I step back onto the porch, and the cold air kisses the blisters on my toes. The fire sounds like a train behind me.

My eyes travel down to the sun on the artwork as my lungs embrace the night air, my feet continuing their path forwards. With the heat of the fire behind me, and my eyes rife with heavy tears from the smoke, I feel as if I am the image; I am the lady draped across the sky, at the border of hot and cold, the sun and the moon. Tears thud on the glass pane, and I look up through my watery vision to flashing lights, shadowy figures, and a dog miming barks.

I turn around just as water torpedoes the flames consuming the house, and my eyes drift upwards to the night sky. Above the burning house and waves of water is the crescent moon, gently resting up in the sky. In the crescent’s cradle sits a man. He watches peacefully, clutching his fishing pole.

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