The Art of Living

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2: Rekindling

When she brought him his warm mug of tea, there was a different light in her eyes. A film of moisture covered them, and he saw it even as she peered down to avoid eye contact. He could have sworn, as she walked away, that her cheeks had far less color now. Do the stories we ignore pass into a realm of nothingness? He wondered if her story was the tragedy of life that we all seem to feel- the tragedy of not having enough.

Today, something extraordinary happened, and the Professor only realized it fifteen minutes in. The cigarette was simply not bending to the will of time. As he narrowed his eyes to look at the lit end, he concluded he was seeing things. But ten deep inhalations later, the lit end had not moved one bit. The cigarette was permanent in this strange moment, where time had stopped exerting its influence on it. The old man wondered, suddenly, if time still had its hold on him. The never-ending cigarette looked almost new; as if he had just lit it. Had he lit his fire yet? Or had it been burning slowly all these years, only to pause at this arbitrary time in life?

He slowly raised the mug to his lips, first examining the ceramic structure. With artwork resembling a Grecian urn, the mug had been brought to the Professor by Keats himself. The etchings told of man and his first attempts at creating flame. Again, the Professor began to think. Did man create fire out of his curiosity, or was there truly a God that bestowed the boon of flame to us? And did he, after observing that man failed miserably in being inherently wise and good, decide that man was now on his own? He had failed the test, and now was cast out into the Earth to find his own way. Professor Quicksilver wondered if he had already failed his test, but then again, he wasn’t sure about God giving out tests either. The Professor detested giving out or correcting tests, and he was quite positive God would not have enjoyed it either, what with the billions of applicants across the world.

The tea was warm as it entered the crevasse of his mouth, and as he swirled it around before swallowing, he winced. Without even a spoon of sugar- his only happiness- the tea was nothing but leaves in milk. He realized the Grecian mug and the golden liquid had deceived him. He put it down abruptly, frowning at the happenings of the afternoon. The cigarette was still not out- sitting in its ashtray it burned miserably- and the tea was tasteless.

He sat there for quite a while, debating whether he should go in and demand a fresh sugared cup or not. But as he thought, he drank and smoked. The cigarette was now at its halfway point, and it had been burning for a half hour straight. The tea was now down to its dregs, and though tasteless, the old man could feel something on his tongue. It felt hard, raw, and almost painful, as if the unsweetened tea contained a sadness he could not come to terms with. Had the essence of life come to him in this cup of tea? To drink, however bland and ugly, and to swallow, no matter how painful it is. It struck the old Professor just then, that in this instant, he had learned so much more than his own students. The cup of tea and the cigarette had carved a permanent image into his mind. Life was either sweet like sugared tea and short like a burning cigarette, or tasteless like the cup in front of him and never-ending like the still-burning butt. He liked the sound of never-ending cigarettes, but he could not deal with sugarless tea.

He suddenly felt revived, but the energized feeling soon disappeared. His mind constantly shifted. When he looked into the smoke rising from the ashtray, a thousand thoughts buzzed in his mind. But when he looked back down at his bony, fragile, ancient body, the discrepancy was far too much to bear. He struggled at that moment, hating his body and his mind for refusing to blend together. There was an explosion of energy building inside him, and his delicate frame could not handle it. It felt to him like his very veins burned from the inside out. He felt the constant need to reach out and clutch something. His fingers found the stubs of cigarettes, the round frame of the ashtray, the hard edge of the table, even the crumpled material of his shirt. He put things together and then moved them apart, never finding a position where everything looked perfect. He stopped himself abruptly, frowning at himself in frustration. He felt immense regret, as if he had wasted years before this moment- and now, it was too late, for his body could not handle the rapid swivel of thoughts rushing through his brain. He needed to leave before the energy imploded inside him.

Having left a crisp note on the table and crushed the cigarette into oblivion, the Professor clambered out of the coffee shop. It was a few lanes to his little cottage, and as he walked out of the shop’s vicinity, he heard it- soft sobs echoing into silence that no one seemed to hear. He steadily approached the source of the sound, wondering which godforsaken soul had found its mourning urge outside a coffee shop.

She kneeled there, on the very road, hidden by the shadow of the coffee shop. Her fair knees now dirtied by the dusty road, she cried into her hands, attempting and failing to conceal her sounds of sadness. As he walked towards her uncertainly, she looked up quickly. The Professor stopped as fast; he had already feared giving her the wrong impression, and he assumed seeing an old man approaching you in your moment of grief would not provide relief. But she looked at him, tears pouring down her eyes. She made no attempts to tame her salty tears as they ran down her face and onto the dusty road.

Beauty is an undefined term to all who have seen it, for the old man could not understand the beauty that he saw before him. In her grief, her golden brown hair glowed like the strings of a heavenly harp, and her eyes sparkled like the fires of the First Man smoldered within them. The tracks of tears on her face gave her a sharp outline. Her grief had made her permanent on this landscape- she had never been more connected to the world than at this moment. Her sharp collarbones were cuts on her perfect frame now. She was infinitely beautiful, as she looked up at him. Slowly, he approached, kneeling to her level. He saw in her eyes the sugarless tea.

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