There burned a pyre of memory of beloved trees, one sick but healing, others that fell through the air.

Earth sign with water rising, I tended the fire. If I were made of Kevlar, I would have climbed inside the hearth and stoked with toes and fingertips.

* * * * *

The medieval maw consumed the swamp chestnut’s branches. Before we moved to this house, the tree had been neglected for more than a decade. Its sapwood oozed and festered in the summer. Rotted pulp filled the gap of its triangular wound, the illusion of strength, the texture of sponge. I named it Stinky then for the homebrew scent of its fermented sap. In spite of its illness, slime flux mold disease, Stinky was sturdy, resilient. Its shade was nearly as valuable as its beauty, so it was spared, pruned of dead and dying branches. Twigs gathered from its canopy in the fall fueled the fire’s start. A stray leaf, large as a cow’s ear, flared red at the edges and collapsed.

That tree lives, sleeping now, its roots in the rain contained by the clay.

Thin Places

By Erika Rae

Memoir

There is a crack underneath my fireplace, where the intake vent meets the hardwood floor. It is too small for most things, but perhaps large enough for a mouse to squeeze through if it is very determined. Tonight, however, something about this crack gets to me. Makes me dizzy. Above, the glow from the fireplace hot on my face; below the crack leading to the depths within my house. Leading perhaps down to the foundation. Maybe beyond.

I wonder what could be down there. Large rodents, maybe. Nick Belardes’ Mothman, probably. I stare at the crack half expecting long, dark fingers to flit through and make a quick probe. Nudge a dust bunny or two on their way to my soul. On their way to finger other thin places in my life.

The sad state of my bank account.

The unpublished books sitting on my bookcase.

The condition of my closet.

How I think my eyebrows would look like Susan Boyle’s, left unchecked.

Like most of the thin places in my life, I am not overly concerned–except for those moments when I am left alone in the dark to ruminate. Moments like these. En momentos así.

Like that time in junior high when I demanded to know why a certain boy was in the girls’ bathroom—only to find out from his own lips that he…was a she.

Like that time I attempted to steal a Coca-Cola bottle and got busted by an angry, French shopkeeper.

Like that time I lied to a friend about something I shouldn’t have.

Like that time I lied to a friend…

These thin places live in parts of me where I don’t have to confront them much. They fit neatly around the curves of my organs where they don’t bother me unless perhaps I lie on them the wrong way or eat something funny. I occasionally mistake them for indigestion or the start of a cold. Medication sometimes helps.

The problem with thin places is that, like all small fissures, there is great potential for the smallest earthquake to break them wide open into something bigger. Something wide and gaping. Something for which the word “maw” could be used. Because of this it sometimes becomes necessary to seek out relatively calm ground—ground which is not prone to bumps and jolts. Avoid amusement park rides and flashing red lights.

Some thin places involve things I didn’t do – but rather things that were done to me, intentionally or otherwise.

The turning away of friends.

Harsh, unjustified words of family in the heat of the moment.

The death of my father.

These types of involuntary fractures wear closer to the surface where I can examine them with more frequency. They exist as a testament to the times I’ve been wronged, and are for some reason easier to face than the times where I’ve done wrong. I can pull them out as a neat distraction from the self-inflicted splits in my being. These are the cracks I feed. The doting on pain cracks. The snacking on cracker cracks. The self-righteous cracks. Not like the other cracks.

But still…cracks.

The orange dance of the flames distracts me and I find myself falling deeper inward, just as I catch a glimpse of those long, Giacometti fingers feeling their way across the floor toward my wool covered toes.

Perhaps a glass of wine would help.