Something is burning. My mind drifts to the strawberry shortcake in the oven, and I inhale deeply. I smell blackened spies and pine needles. A buttery, sugary cloud should not smell of the charcoaled Middle East. Maybe I used crushed coriander instead of sugar. Or maybe something else is burning.
Marco always used to say that when something is made with passion, failure is impossible. For his countless coins of advice and inspirational sayings, I found that one to be the most irritating. It got on my nerves in a way that was indescribable. You could throw your entire life into an artwork and still be disappointed in the end. I’ve done that before, so I know. My cheeks feel warm from the sun as I stand, basking in the honey coloured sunlight. I can be so philosophical at times but also so prone to senseless thoughts. That’s why I need Marco, and I suppose that’s why he left me. The sun doesn’t feel pleasant anymore. It’s burning my skin.
It’s amazing how much looking at photos makes you feel. A square, flat piece of paper has the power to provoke an entire spectrum of emotions. I stare down at the photograph of Marco, gripping the slip of paper until the edges bite into the bony flesh of my skin. My hand cries tears of blood and I cry tears of salt, which run like clear ghosts down my cheeks. There’s no use wiping them away. They’ll just start to flow again and again. I pick up the photograph and reach behind me to the kitchen draw. I know the feel of a cigarette lighter. Marco asked me to light his cigarette so often I could do it with my eyes closed. I don’t smoke. I don’t like the smell of things burning.
I’m a man of colour and vibrance, Marco had told me one night as we stood in the kitchen making stovetop paella. I need to be with someone who can make me smile and who appreciates my thoughts.
I added roast capsicum to the pan and watched as the ribbons of sunrise simmered in their bath of stock. I should have been defensive, but I wasn’t. Marco had leant over my shoulder and released a pinch of red power from his fingers. Paprika. I like Marco, and I like what he says, but for the most part, I was emotionless.
Emelia, Marco spun me around so I was looking into his eyes.
The paella is going to burn, my mouth spoke. Marco had brown eyes that looked years younger than his nicotine aged face.
Let’s both be free from one another, he said. I’ve brought you a gift to say goodbye.
Our relationship was nothing to him. Dust and bone. Emotionless and loveless. A faint whiff of smoke caught my nostrils.
The paella had burnt.
Marco gave me a candle that smelled like sand and looked like a smooth pebble. Be careful where you put it, he had said. It’s got a powerful flame.
I’d said thank you, my smile as false as my heart. I gave him my best wishes, tied up in a blue box with his favourite chilli jam. We parted ways, and the pebble went into the box of photos I’d kept of Marco, hopefully never to be seen again.
That was yesterday. My strawberry shortcake has risen to the height of a sweet dream and I know that it will be one of the best things I’ve made. When Marco was around, I’d burn things. He’s gone now, and I can cook without the distraction of his presence. The harsh smell of smoke bites through my senses again. It’s coming from the photo box. I reach the bathroom in time to witness a blanket of flames engulfing the box of Marco’s photographs. The candle is burning bright in the centre, the proud arsonist. Somehow, a jug of water appears in my hands, and I douse the flames, leaving nothing but blackened feathers of ash.
Marco is gone. My mind flicks to my shortcake and I race to the kitchen. Too late. Marco has distracted me a final time. I reach for the oven mitts and open the oven door to remove my burnt dessert.