Part Four: The Ending
Fire. Flames. Beautiful and wild and unstoppable and powerful and wonderful. I know what fire feels like. I know what it is like to be fire. The flames are my kindred spirit.
We were fire together once, he and I. But then he forgot himself. He forgot the feeling of passion, and he began to fear the flames. So he extinguished the fire, extinguished me, at least as best as he could. Fire’s life still remains in embers, though, if one does not take great care to douse a fire thoroughly, and with the faintest breath, those embers can spring back to life, and the fire will be revived, as strong as ever.
A fire does not go away simply because one wishes it away, pretending it doesn’t exist. How long can he stand with his back to the fire and deny that he feels its heat before the fire claims him?
My final reminder, my final plea, that’s what this is.
Fire to the curtains first—fire to my prison. Fire will consume the box that was meant to contain it.
He’ll remember me, surely. His little homely ingénue has fled, so what else would prevent him from remembering? She realized that she was paper and that she could not protect herself against the fire. He is now free to remember that he, too, is fire.
Fire is free. Fire is passionate.
Free and passionate fire to the bed where paper slept. Her wedding dress hangs in the corner still. Fire to that as well.
This is not the act of a madwoman. This is an artful expression, a message, poetry. They say I’m mad and growing madder. No, merely remembering my passion. Fire flickers when it has no room to breathe. It has been so long since I have had room to breathe, but I breathe deeply now. Nothing remains to confine me.
I watch the flames dancing, dancing, dancing, and I laugh. It has been nearly as long since I laughed as since I breathed.
I go back upstairs, and as I go, I hear voices beginning to shout. They are remembering me. They are seeing me. They are fearing me.
The flames are roaring perfectly now.
Another thing I love about fire is that it makes everything into nothing. Anything it meets ceases to exist, besides more fire.
Climbing up and up, and finally to the roof. The shingles are warm beneath my feet. I would be happy to just lie here in wait for the flames to come. Fire meeting fire. But I’m waiting for my other fire. While I wait, I sing. I imagine that the flames, which are beginning to emerge through the roof in some places, are dancing and clamoring for my attention and delighting in my voice just the way that the men in my tavern used to. I sing the song from the night that Edward made me his own. Surely he will hear this and remember, but perhaps the sound of the fire inside the house is preventing him. I sing more loudly.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter if he remembers me, if he remembers us. Perhaps I could simply sit here with the flames, waiting. Perhaps it’s enough for me to remember for both of us. I find the fire oddly comforting. It understands me, it understands my desire to purge this house, and it is more than willing to help me fulfill that desire.
I look to my left and see the servants clustered in front of the house, watching. And then, there is Edward. He appears frantic, address the servants with sharp hand gestures, they shake their heads, and then Grace looks up towards the corner where I am sitting. She points, Edward looks, then races back inside the house.
Soon, my love.
I keep singing.
“My God, Bertha, what have you done!” Edward stands on the ladder that leads up to the roof, his body only halfway through the opening, his hair matted and his face smudged.
“Do you remember me?” I ask.
“Do not ask me riddles, Bertha—you must come with me right now!”
“Are you afraid?”
“No! Yes! You ought to be afraid too, now come with me!”
I smile. “We are the fire, Edward, you and I. Don’t you see it?”
“Bertha…” Edward slowly climbs onto the roof. He cares for me still. He must, or he wouldn’t be approaching me, begging me to come with him…
Slowly, I unfold my knees from my chest and stand. I look to Edward. He takes a step forward, reaching out his hand to me.
With a sudden burst of light and heat and sound, the roof caves in between us. He cannot come to me now, and I cannot go to him. The fire has decided our ending.
He shouts my name.
I look at him, smiling, singing that song.
Two steps to the edge of the roof. A third step into the air.
Eyes closed. Hearing the fire. Smelling the smoke. Feeling the heat.