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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Balcony

The first thought that occurred to him was that it wasn't he who set the building on fire. Regardless of responsibility, the building was on fire and he was stuck on the 9th floor. He had rented a hotel suite on the 9th floor with a cute balcony overlooking the city, and he was on that balcony now being irrational.
But he hadn't set the building on fire. So why was he facing the consequences? He began to imagine what the person who started the fire looked like. Was it a man or woman? It must be a man, he thought, because he had never heard of a female arsonist. There is that irrationality again. He was becoming aware of it. He turned his mind to the matter at hand. He had been forced on the balcony for some fresh air. He had tried to escape the building, but when he opened the door to his room, the hall was aflame and impassable. He had shut the door to the hall and wanted some fresh air.
Now, he wished he hadn't shut the door. He couldn't see what was happening. Was the fire still there? Had it been put out? From his perch above the city, he had heard sirens, but could not identify between police, ambulance or firetruck and did not even know whether the loud vehicle had stopped at the hotel. He didn't see any firetrucks from the balcony.
The fresh air outside was huge relief after a lung-full of the black acrid smoke. Did he smoke, he thought. Could that have been how the fire started? Someone smoking in bed? Were there any rooms in the hotel that could be smoked in? All of them now, and he grimaced at the thought. I didn't start the fire.
And he truly hadn't. So why was he in the midst of this calamity, stuck on a balcony 9 stories up enjoying the fresh air and imagining what the man smoking in bed looked like. Did he die? Was he burned up? Is he so unrecognizable that it didn't matter what he looked like before? Did he get what he deserved, and he was immediately ashamed at the thought. Smoking in bed is not a sin, it's not even a crime. It's just, well, unwise.
Alarmed by a sudden blast of heat, he looked into the room. The fire had burned through the sheet rock into his room. He reached for the glass door that opened to the balcony, and the metal burned as he shut it. He looked at his hands and didn't see any burns. Just hot. Just heat. But not so just. It wasn't just for the smoker to burn in bed, screaming in pain or deep in sleep. And it isn't just for him to burn now. And he started sobbing.
Was he going to die?
He had committed sins and crimes before. He had even gotten a speeding ticket during the journey to the city. But wasn't the ticket punishment paid in full? He had told lies before, and various other things he wasn't proud of. Was this punishment? Looking back inside his room, the fire had caught the blanket that was draped off his bed and half laid on the floor against the burning wall. Was he just unwise?
No, not making the bed was not unwise. The fire is not punishment. So what is the fire? Death, no the fire is not death. But there were not firetrucks and no ladders, and no helicopters and no one standing on the ground 9 stories below. The whole bed, no, the whole room was on fire now, the tongues licking at the glass.
Like a dog, he thought. A dog wanting to come outside. No, the fire is not an animal. What is the fire, but he knew all along. The fire is a catalyst. A catalyst to a choice. And so was the ticket for speeding and punishment in general, it all just forces you to make choices. The heat now on the balcony was unbearable. He had no choices here.

But, he did. There is always a choice. He could jump 9 stories down to no one.

Why would I jump, he thought. I will die when I hit the ground, and I will die getting burned up.
I should jump, he thought. But why! Because I don't know. Don't know what! The fire is a certain death. I will die burning. I should jump. But I'll die hitting the ground too! I don't know that.
Why should I jump? Because I might fly. And he climbed on top of the railing.