The fire burns low and the orange lights it casts flicker lazily in the comfy little living room I had made my home. The muggy atmosphere promised an eminent and swift transition into unconsciousness, but for now I was still lucid enough to gaze forlornly around the small room. I fought against the heady pull of sleep just to breathe in the smell of food, old wood and the people around me; the smell of home.
The birthday party was already winding down, and my family was strewn across the room in various states of lethargy. The ghost of a smile touches my face.
The remnants of the two cakes lie on the table, consumed by the voracious appetites of my children, two extinguished No. 12 Candles lying in the space between the cakes. The twins were turning twelve in a few hours and they were at that age where they were still trying to define their identity and what made them special as individual people; the easiest way, of course, was to be the exact opposite of each other.
Hence the two cakes, black forest (extra chocolate) and some variant of a strawberry shortcake (with extra strawberries, of course). Just staring at the decimated leftovers of each cake reminded me of all the complaints my wife had extolled while we were baking them.
Well, I was preparing them, she was helping with the mixing. Sarah couldn’t bake for the life of her.
Grinning, I remembered the hectic rush over the past couple of days. How we spent them rushing to prepare the cakes, rushing to buy the gifts, all the while trying our best to juggle with office hours; with that weeks long holiday in a couple of months, we had to save as many Vacational Leaves as possible.
As my eldest daughter starts to snore softly, I look down at her sleeping in my arms.
Diana had a long and upturned nose, and rather large eyes. She had a vaguely bow shaped mouth that was neither too wide nor too narrow; in short she looked, in my eyes, like a carbon copy of her mother.
Of course, everyone else had no idea what I meant. Sure, Diana had my square jaw and hazel eyes, my high cheek bones and full lips. But when I looked at her, I saw Sarah.
I saw it in the way her eyebrows would knit together when she’s focused, in the way the room would suddenly feel a few degrees colder when she got angry. I saw it in the way she would face down a problem with an uncompromising determination (God forbid you ended up being that problem).
I saw it when the morning sun would hit her hair as she rushed off to school, reminding me of how I used to send Sarah off to work, or school when we were younger. They both seemed to take each day as seriously as the last.
As I stared down at Diana, I noticed the small scar on her forehead, almost hidden in her hairline. She got it just a few weeks ago but it was already healing nicely; even then, I was unsure if it would disappear entirely.
It was a souvenir from one of the many fights she had had at school; this time it was something about how one of the other girls had called her a ‘gross boy’. Thankfully, Damian had come to the rescue. With a few choice and kind words, her twin brother had managed to soothe the two parties into reconciliation.
But a couple of days ago, Diana had asked me, in that characteristic loud voice of hers.
“Daddy? What if it doesn’t go away? I don’t wanna be gross forever,” her voice quavering while staring into the living room mirror. Diana may be a tomboyish girl, but even she was concerned about those quips about being ugly.
I had struggled for a second. I was never quick-witted and the right words were eluding me. Staring at my reflection in those hazel eyes, shining with unspilled tears, had left me heartbroken. But Damian once again saved her from her sorrow.
Silently shutting the novel he was reading, Damian’s soft spoken and steady voice rang out to fill the silence, “But Didi, you should be proud of that scar. Think of all the stories we can make up about it. We can tell Aunt Marie you got it from fighting a huge wolf! RAAARGH.” He ended with theatrical roar that belied his slim stature.
That drew a laugh from Diana, and those tears spilled down her cheeks as a product of mirth instead of fear and apprehension.
Then, just looking at him, I had seen the man that small child would likely grow up to be. And in that small moment, I realised how unique this child of mine was; he had inherited Sarah’s wit and my calm demeanour.
In many ways Damian had rather demure features; his looks were simply unremarkable and there were no specific features which stood out and called for attention. Even his eyes were a shade of muddy brown that could instill the impression of dullness. But if you spent some time looking into those eyes, you would notice a spark of intelligence and a warm curiosity burning in them.
And though he would never hold the attention of a room the way Diana would, Damian would be her perfect foil and confidant. In the ocean she may one day find herself drowning, Damian would be the lighthouse guiding her back to safe harbours.
And as I pondered his future, I looked over at him sprawled in one of the bean bag chairs, a hardcover novel lying in his arms. Though his eyes were open and it appeared as if he were reading, they were unfocused and unmoving. Only his own stubbornness to stay awake til midnight seemed to keep those eyes open at all, but I could already tell that that quest was a futile one. Even as I watched, he began blinking slowly until, as expected, they refused to open again.
Once again, I let my eyes wander around the cluttered room. My gaze briefly lands upon the collection of framed photographs depicting important family milestones; there were a few holiday pictures, the first day of school for the twins, and some from before their time as well. A warm ball of fluff slowly expands in the space within my chest as I glanced at each picture in turn.
This was my life, spent in worship of the god of the Hearth, the god of the fire that burns in the depths of our hearts. The god of home.
And as that thought burns itself into my memory, my eyes fall upon the singular, threadbare armchair in that familiar room. And in that chair I find the one who had built that home with me.
Her green eyes shone with the same intensity that had burned since the day we had met; it hid a mysterious humour and the kind of wit sharp enough to slice through flesh but still leaving you wishing for more. Her beauty, seemingly unageing in my eyes, poured from every pore. And like the beauty of Mother Nature itself, she left me breathless.
Though she sat halfway across the room, her gaze swallowed me whole and I was left paddling in those sea-green eyes.
In them I saw how she would burn you with her words, how she could cut you with every syllable. Her words were rarely kind and they could be harsh enough to erode rock into sand. Her voice, when laden with scorn, would humble even the most foolhardy of men. Few could crossed my Sarah and even fewer tried.
But in those eyes, I saw her as the woman I had fallen in love with; the will of a woman who stood undaunted and unmoving in a world eager to subjugate and swallow her whole. I saw the woman who would stand against the powers-that-be for no other reason than to ensure that they are stood against.
“For there must be balance”, she had explained to me, “And if there were no opposing force, who would limit them?”
I saw the fierce fires that burned in the eyes of the mother of my children, and I knew that I had found the fire that would exterminate any who would threaten my family. Our family.
But even in the turmoil of those visions I had seen in her eyes, I could also see the order those raging fires could forge. And the kind of steel only flames that hot could forge; steel to be made into the solid foundation of a nurturing family.
I need not look far for the proof of that; it lay all around me, in the home of a family snoozing after the 12th birthday party of nonidentical twins.
And as I withdrew from those sea-green eyes, I noticed that she was smiling calmly, in that small way that she preferred. Maintaining eye contact, she bent over with a slow languid motion. In doing so, she kissed the forehead of our youngest daughter swaddled in her arms.
Little Ella Martin, a baby of a few months. The newest addition to this family, though maybe not the last. Her life was as yet undefined, a child of infinite potential and untold possibilities.
Contented with that small kiss, Sarah leaned back and proceeded to find a more comfortable position in that chair. With one last look shot in my direction, her eyelids fell and muted the imperceptible glow of her green eyes. Within moments, her body took the liquid flexibility of deep sleep.
As I watched her slip into the comfort of unconsciousness, I felt a sudden pressing weight on the top of my eyelids. Though I felt no need to fight it any longer, I persisted anyway.
And in the long moments that stretched into infinity, one last prayer fell from my lips. For I had lived a life in worship of the god of the Hearth, and he deserved one last word of worship from me.
But alas, I was never good with words and I could not find the right one.
Instead, I let that cosy living room speak that prayer for me.