Endings: Memories of Ash

August 21, 2009

I went out every damn night looking for that cat.

I’d get home from work, make dinner at the new apartment, and hit the streets – still empty, at first, in the aftermath of the fire. It took a while for people to trust each other enough to come back out into the open. They hid in their brick houses and behind their glass windows and suffered the heat in silence… at first. But after a week, they were staying out in the evenings, rather than simply ducking indoors with the heads bowed low and no words for the neighbors.

After a month, things were back to normal. Oh, you could see the blackened shells that had burnt down, you could even still smell the smoke on the air – but the city moved on. Workers worked, neighbors chatted, children played.

And I continued to hunt for the cat.

Seems like a silly thing, right? After everything that happened on that one night, after everything I lost – we lost – and all the tragedies throughout the city… I was worried over the cat that fled the house during the commotion. I mean, we had only had her for a few days before everything went down. A stray from the streets… we hadn’t even named her, yet.

Maybe it was right, and just, that she returned to the concrete wilderness of the city. Maybe that was her proper place – once we had nursed her back to health, she had no more need for us, and the night of the fire simply provided a good distraction to escape back to her roots.

So why was I roaming the streets, every evening without fail? Was it simply looking for one possible attachment to my old life… to everything that I had lost, or left behind, that evening?

No… I don’t think it was that. I think it was simply something to do. All that loss, all that tragedy… I couldn’t do anything about it. Not for me, not for anyone else.

But… maybe I could find the cat. And give her a proper home again. It was a faint, meaningless, ridiculous, absurd little hope… but it kept me going. It gave me time.

Just as the city slowly healed, so did I.

I never found her on the streets. I wandered for three months and a day, without a sign, without even the slightest clue to keep me looking. I walked the back alleys, I roamed behind the restaurants where they cast off their scraps, I picked my way through the junk lots where so many memories were piled up out of sight. Without success.

And then, on the ninety-third day from when I started searching, I came home… and found her sitting in my kitchen. I had left the window open – fall was well on its way, but the heat hadn’t yet left the city. It lingered like the smoldering coals of the fire, keeping us warm and reminding us of the scent of ash and smoke.

I don’t know how she found the place…. or why. It seems irrational. Maybe she was searching for me, just as I was hunting for her… and every night, when I was out on the streets, she was sneaking through the halls of one home after another, in search of a lost friend.

Or maybe it was just coincidence. Luck, fate, random chance… or the will of two lost souls, in a city that had burned… and lived to tell the tale. It told it through each one of us, who survived. Each one, who remembered. Victims and guilty were we all… and Ash and I as much as any.

She lives with me still, though she’s grown old over the years. Her coat is as gray as her namesake… but her steps are still young. Still adventurous, though her limp has only grown worse. I’ve only grown more sedate, on the other hand, and let time wash over me like a cooling tide. I’ve tried to tell the tale of what happened that night, tried to set the facts in stone…

But… but it can’t be done, can it? My views just one, of many. You’d need to capture the tale of every soul trapped in the city the night it burned. No, I can’t provide the full story – I can only provide my own. And, in doing so… a bit of Ash’s, as well, and a piece of everyone else I remembered from that night.

In the end, I hope that’s enough.

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