He woke from an utter darkness and silence —a dreamless sleep —as if he was born to this place. He could hear just enough from a nearby room to know that a television was playing there. He could gather the tone of an excited voice, but he couldn’t quite identify the language being spoken. It was a breathless almost cheerful voice with an odd music to it —a sportscaster —or a war correspondent whose preferred side was winning.
This oddly happy voice sang from behind a closed doorway. He could not see this doorway but its effect upon the distant voice was unmistakable. His mind’s eye saw the door, its coarse gray paint worn through to shining in places from use. He could see that sort of metal doorframe, hollow, with mitred corners. His mind’s eye drew the dark lines.
It seemed that he hadn’t yet opened his eyes. He opened them —or rather he tried to open them. And at that same moment he felt his own warm breath spill back across his face and he remembered. His eyes stung with darkness. A heavy canvas bag was over his head —the bag smelled of its canvas, that scorched smothering fragrance, as if sunlight had become exhausted in the heavy fabric —and that exhausted light had turned rancid.
Yes, he had woken from a dreamless sleep and in those first moments he hadn’t yet remembered anything —his own name or language —what had brought him here to this darkness. There had been some peace in these first moments of waking which left him now, a scattered gathering of crows, a sudden flower of pain —opening within him —discoloring the darkness.
He remembered their arrival —screaming voices in a foreign tongue, the sound of car doors slamming shut, dark boots landing heavily in the loose gravel walkway outside his home, one man or many moving quickly past the windows of the front room —the explosion of chaos and cool night air as the entrance doorway erupted into splinter pieces flying and shouting men with guns. Had they moved so quickly? —or had they come from every direction at once? —to surround him, shouting, screaming their instructions to him in words he did not know.
Where are you taking him? His wife had screamed, more an accusation than a question. Brave woman, or fool, perhaps she simply hadn’t realized who these people were —how they could choose to behave. Brave woman, or fool, she had called his name then as someone thrust a knee into his stomach, while others grabbed his arms from behind.
His wrists were joined behind him and tied. And quickly he disappeared into the darkness. The canvas sack was over his head. It was the same one he wore now.
Brave woman, or fool, his wife had called his name again —her voice strangely calm, almost warm —offering comfort, as if she called him away from some terrible dream. She only said his name, but in such a way as to say they cannot hurt you, my love —they can never take you from me.
He remembered his daughter crying —screaming from her room. There were other men, others of his captors running through the home —slamming doors, book cases overturned, the wicker chair being smashed into the floor, breaking glass. They shouted warnings and kicked open doors with their heavy shoes. It all transpired in darkness, though through his minds eye he saw. His prized books torn under their feet. Terror on the face of his child. His wife’s dark eyes.
They had lifted him off his feet then by the arms that were twisted behind him. Off his feet and suspended this way his shoulders had screamed a message of pain across his chest. This scream had gripped his heart and taken his voice. He could not speak. He could not breath, yet he flew through the air —borne by his captors —by his wings of pain.
His wife called one last time from somewhere suddenly far behind him and growingly distant. In his mind’s eye he saw her face —the face that would have accompanied that voice. He knew that face. Without his eyes he saw her. Without his voice he called to her.
See to the child! My love, see to the child!
He was thrown to the floor of a cargo vehicle of some kind. The impact of his own falling sounded a solemn resonant drum. His strangled chest, his shoulders aflame with the searing pain of his injury, were almost soothed by the cool greasy metal floor he found himself pressed against. He felt the shudder of an engine turning beneath him. They began to move away and he was suddenly nauseous. He struggled to contain the sensation with each jolt of the motor changing gears.
In his minds eye he willed that his wife had turned away from the shattered doorway of their home. She must see to the child. He would survive this darkness. She must see to the child.
The pain in his shoulders remained. His arms were still bound behind him. The tearing pain across his chest was easier now —perhaps he had learned to breath differently. Shallowly. Slowly.
His legs were folded beneath him and his ankles, too, were bound. These were joined to his wrists behind him. He had never folded his legs in this way before. He was not certain what had become of his knees. He did not recall when they had bound him in this configuration, but just that thought —just the question— sent a wakened pain coursing through his legs and along his spine. A cruel blood was released in his veins and travelled through him, flowering at the back of his skull.
It was his own voice he heard then —he hadn’t meant to speak —this cruel blood filled his mind and spoke. Something less than a scream had emitted from him —something more desperate than a prayer or a plea, something more primitive —the first word of the first language. This sound had filled the canvas sack around his face.
He could not know if anyone had heard his cry. His breathing followed heavy with the renewed presence of his pain. He was waking from sleep. He was newly born to this horrible place. For all his body was motionless his agony now entailed a strange gathering exertion. It seemed each beat of his heart sent flame coursing through each cell of his body. Each flame demanded a deeper breath. The sharper and heavier each breath, the sharper and heavier the pain became. It was as if his spirit swam in some torrential stream with this exertion —and should he slacken the pace he would drown. He was waking from sleep and he wondered to himself, how had he slept and lived? How had he not drowned in these inner flames?
He chose to deepen and slow his breathing and he began to move beyond the stream.
He remembered the birth of his daughter. The child had chosen a terrible time to be born. His wife and he were not ready. The world was not.
That night the streets had been closed. Explosions wracked the city. Spasms of flame in the distance. The power had failed. And the telephone. He alone had been left there to comfort his wife in the darkness. He had held her hand in his own. Now he remembered her eyes, animal and dark with suffering. He moved her sweat dampened hair from her face. She forced deep even breaths. The candlelight reflected in her eyes. For all her pain, she looked at him. She saw him and smiled a brief smile and then turned again to her breaths.
He held himself to that smile in his mind. He held himself to those breaths, her breaths, then his own.
His own body was calming now. His own breathing had helped to ease his efforts in the river of pain. He began to move more freely there. He let himself glide through and then float above that river. The notion of flame cooled inside him. From this place he took note of his condition once more. The pain in his legs and along his back was the hot inner knifing of wracked muscle. This contortion he was bound in was responsible for that. Perhaps he could train himself to dispel this —if only he could convince these muscles to stop their complaint —to at least for a time surrender. At each of his shoulders there burned a perfect blue flame. This was damage —something torn open in the flame. These might heal. Or they might never.
At his wrists behind him something cold and very thin —where they had bound his hands with plastic straps. Perhaps he was bleeding there. It seemed his blood was improbably freezing to form sharp crystals. Brittle. Resonant. Perfect.
His breath had gone quiet now and he realized so had everything around him. The television noise from the next room was gone. At some great distance he heard a metal door close on a metal frame.
What do you want with me?
Why have you done this?
You don’t even know who I am.
My wife —my child —have you harmed them as well?
What could you possibly gain from what you are doing?
The crystalline pain at his wrists bound behind him grew just then—suddenly larger. And everything around it gave way. At the same time something cool moved along the back of his neck and opened gently in his brain. Cool —a white petalled flower—the fire moving through him —transformed into sweet honeyed milk.
He held his daughter in his arms then —for the very first time. In her face he saw his own. He saw too the sweet darkness of his wife, of her eyes and hair, her voice as it sang. He imagined the child’s voice would one day have the same dark quality.
The child had calmed quickly from its crying, as he held her wrapped in a bath towel and he circled the candlelit room. He had looked out the window on the city with her cradled there in his arms. He rocked gently. The sky was reddened that night with distant fires. But the outside world was oddly silent and far removed at that moment. More than a window pane separated them from the horrors outside.
His wife had spoken his name —what music that had been —her voice at once betraying her weariness, her aching to hold the child, and the joy she had seen born there —this child he held in his arms.
She laughed and playfully scolded as she spoke his name once more. He came to her then with their child. He placed their daughter in her arms.
He blew out the candle by her bedside then.
And the three of them embraced, there in a sweet sweet darkness.