Burn Marks

by Liz Cody

"At the age of 18, I cared for my father as he died of lung cancer." Each time I run the phrase through my mind, across my tongue, I don't feel the cold drown of grief but something sharp that burns hot, like guilty lies. The facts are true on paper at least, little white papers like the sales receipts for cartons of Marlboros - one of my earliest memories - to be kept in the freezer until the the ritual of his fiery consummation was complete, and papers like tax forms and birth certificates and divorce settlements, ritual papers, evidencing the fiery consummation of my mother, and the burn marks he left on her body, one of which grew up to be me. I lived 18 years barely knowing the "flames from whence I'd sprung" until that last hour, when all the fires he'd ever lit were finally consuming him, and his body was placed in my care, aglow with pain, the doctors shooting light into his bones and flesh to show him his wounds, trading metaphors of darkness for light, and light for death, death in his lungs, death in his gut, his thighs, his bones, his brain - his body strung throughout with the burn marks of a million Marlboros burned onto black plastic by x-ray and back-lit by a white fluorescent tube. It was only through that confusion of light and dark, that shadowed cleft between life and relief that we snuck in - to a place so sparse and uninhabited and directionless that only the inevitable flow of time could judge how I pushed and dragged his pain-eaten body towards death. There was no cruel sense of justice, no satisfaction in seeing him suffer; I administered his death rites without anger, without love, without regret, without feeling, in that numb shadowland where the distinctions of accusation and compassion, perpetrator and victim, denial and duty could not confuse the task at hand, and it is only now, when my greyness is pierced by the illuminating pity of your eyes that would glow at my sorrow and fasten to my past such images of shining angelic devotion and tearful broken-hearted longing and loss, that my own dry eyes begin to burn.


Liz Cody is young and has plenty left to say.


Leatherdykeuk said...

Powerful piece. No matter what they do, it's hard not to love a father.

mgirl said...

So much emotion in your six, Liz. Nicely written.