Monday, October 25, 2010
The Old Mill
Laura's fingers play in the spears of light streaming through the window, as if they have substance, much like the memories they kindle. Light catches on the jagged glass still clinging to the window, twinkling. She smiles. Many that walk the ruins of the old flour mill may think some delinquent, chucking rocks for wishes in the shadows of night, was responsible for the broken windows. She knows different.
It was once the largest flour mill in the world, giving Minneapolis the moniker of the Mill City. Times change though and in 1965, it was shut down along with eight other mills. Over the years, the once prominent landmark became just another forgotten place that every one walked or drove by daily on their way to the future. It was where their future was to begin.
James chose the old mill not just for the seclusion, but because it stirred within him a romanticism beyond his years. The old stone. The hard cut timber. The creation that came in the making of the flour, and the promise it carried. Many a night they had snuck away coming to just this spot, pushing aside old boards, meant to guard the windows, now loose on rusted nails.
He would bring a blanket, which he spread across the wood floor beneath the window and they would lay in each others arms, stars peeking through the window. He laughed, saying they were jealous of her beauty, running his finger along her cheek. His lips would find hers, tenderly writing stories of the life they would live.
She can almost smell the spice of his skin, twenty years later as the museum crowd swims around her. Seeing families walking around the old mill feels like a travesty against the intimacy they once shared. A dove lands on the sill of the broken window, drawing her eyes back to the spot. It struts back and forth before settling its eyes on her.
The glass in the second story window was cloudy as she peered through it, waiting for him to appear. He was always early, preparing a place for them, but tonight she slipped into the crumbling old building to find only shadows. Sitting the backpack against the base of the wall, she checked the watch on her wrist. James was late. Just a half hour, and he had much to do, she reassured herself. Tonight they were leaving.
They planned it for weeks, deciding to wait until the night of her birthday. She had told no one, not wanting someone to try stop them or accidentally let it slip at the sweet sixteen party her parents were throwing her. Her girlfriends were at the house, covering for her. They thought she was just meeting James for a midnight birthday celebration of their own.
Looking once more to her watch, she settled beneath the window, back pack under her head. The stares of the stars seemed colder, as if they knew something. Turning away from their accusations, her eyes soon drifted closed. She dreamed of fields, sunshine, and butterflies. This was where they would live.
It was the heat that woke her, her skin stinging. The room was filled with smoke, and her first breath caught in her throat. She could not see flames, but the floor was hot and she could hear the roar. James was still not with her. Her heart galloped as she ran to the window to see what was happening.
Shadows moved along the street, people running here and there. She yelled, beating her fists against the window. Visions being roasted, burned in the fire danced across her mind, turning her frantic. Pounding furiously, her hands began to hurt. Realising she needed help, she searched for something, anything heavy enough to break the glass.
Thick smoke fought against her, obscuring her vision, sapping her strength as it consumed the oxygen. Panic set in, her breathing shorter and faster. The world began to spin and she was having a hard time walking. Crumpling to the floor, her last thought as the world went dark, was of James, breaking the window, cool air flowing across her and flames.
Fingering the skin on the back of her hand, she watches the dove fly away. A child loudly complains to his parents that he is bored as they walk into the room. She ignores them, as much as they do her, approaching a framed newspaper clipping hanging on the wall. Her eyes scan the headline, "Local boy arrested in fire that nearly destroys abandoned mill." The photographer captured just the edge of James' face in the close up of the patrol cars window, the reflection of the flames on the glass.
"Not the best picture of me, is it?"
"You had just lost everything, the fear in those eyes is...," the remaining words are lost in his lips pressing into her.
"Hard to believe they fixed this old place up into a museum, twenty years after it nearly burned down," breaking away from the kiss, he holds her close as they look around the room. His eyes find hers and they rest in that moment letting it warm them.
"So, tonight..," she puts a finger to his lips, and smiles as they slowly sink into the floor, unseen by anyone, except a little boy who is no longer bored.
Seeing a twinkle of light as they disappear from view, he tugs at his mother's hand, saying, "Look mommy, a star. Mommy!"
This is fiction. A request from Drybottomgirl, who emailed me the picture of the old mill in Minneapolis saying it needed a story...in 1991 it did burn only to become a museum several years later. I left a lot of questions open. How did he die if he was in the police car? Why was he late? How did the fire start? Let your imagination fill in the gaps.