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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Essence of Incense [1 of 2]

A snarl and then the clicking of teeth. Collin looks up from his work and sees his son, Chris, put the fingers of his left hand into his mouth. “Did he bite you?” He is ready to jump up.
Chris shakes no, sucking his fingers. He pulled back in time.
“Why don't you give Iris a break?”
Chris takes his fingers out. “Because I want him to be my friend.” It sounds more like a reproach than a defence.
“What were you doing when Iris tried to bite you?” Collin knows exactly what his son did, but hopes the boy is man enough to say it.
“Nothing.” Chris looks away from his father. “I was just playing with him.”
“Is that all you were doing?”
“Yes Dad, all.” The child looks furtively at his father who has question marks lighting up in his eyes. Chris prefers to look at the midsized black dog. “Why do I have to have a he-dog with a girl's name?”
“Mrs. Reynolds doesn't think Iris is a girl's name. And all the puppies in the nest needed a name starting ...”
“... with an 'I'” Chris knows the rap. Can't let off, however. “But why Iris? Iris is a flower.
“Yes. And a symbol for male power. The power of Wisdom, Optimism and Trust. It also stands for Passion and deeply felt Friendship. That's what you want from your dog, don't you?”
Chris nods. He wants to be friends so much, he can't wait to have the dog following him on his heels, everywhere he goes. Why doesn't the dog feel that and respond to it?
Chris gets up and walks over to his father. Leans against him, hiding his face. Almost unintelligible he mutters about wishing he had taken Uncle Robert's dog while he had the choice. Uncle Robert's dog is a lot older than Iris, but at least very familiar with Chris.
“I didn't hear that.” Collin replies. It's a hint Chris knows pretty well by now. He's entering forbidden ground.
Collin knows his son is impatient. But does it help to bluntly tell him so? “Maybe you should give Iris a moment alone, Chris. Maybe there's something you can do for me in the mean time.”
He looks around the living room . What will keep his son absorbed, so he can finish the reading he should do for his article?
His eyes come across a collection of incense. A friend brings him new flavours with regular intervals. Collin's not fond of it, but thanks her each time she brings it along. So the stock is growing out of proportion. Chris likes to watch the smoke dance upwards, it simply captivates his attention.
“Help Dad light a stick of incense. To help me relax and concentrate on my work. That way I'll be done faster.”
With an enthusiastic yell, Chris runs to the pile of bags with incense sticks. He reads the names of the flavours carefully. Picks out the newest taste in the collection. “Here Dad, this one is called Iris. Maybe it'll help the dog relax too.” Collin's eyes wrinkle up in a smile. Chris is very good at making excuses and finding reasons for doing something he shouldn't do. “Takes after his father,” Ellen used to tease him with that.
“I will burn this stick and then we'll both be friends.” Chris says importantly.
“Is his friendship so important to you?”
The child nods emphatically. “I want his friendship more than anything else.”
“Let's work on that, then.”

As Collin looks for the long matches in the kitchen -his son would drop the short ones in a second, afraid of burning his fingers- Chris climbs on a chair and carefully takes out a fair sized church building, meant for tea light candles. It's made of clay, with brown enamel, making it look like an old English country church.
“Can I put the stick in the church's tower?” asks Chris, before his father can say anything. He takes the church out of the child's hands and puts it on the table, on a coaster. Then he lifts his son off the chair.
“Now where do we put in the incense?” Collin asks. Obviously Chris already has a plan. He takes off the spire and points. “Maybe we can stick the end into a potato”.
Collin eyes the entrance of the church, through which a tea light is to be passed and shifted to the nave. No potato would pass through that door. Maybe a piece of bread? It works. It was a tricky job, but now the incense points proudly through the church tower into the air. The spire is resting elsewhere on the table.
Collin helps Chris light up the stick. “Finally” he thinks and turns back to his pile of paper, books and magazines. Chris squints as he is peering through the church windows. He seems ensconced in his own thoughts. Relieved Collin picks up his pen. Better finish this quickly, the stick won't keep Chris occupied forever.
As Chris' eyes move to the incense stick, his face twists. Panic shows as he blows at the stick. With thumb and index finger he pops off the ashes that have piled up on top. It lands on Collins book. With an aggravated look, Collins carefully wipes it off. “What is it now?”
“It burns too fast!” Nonsense, with a few straight words his father convinces him that all sticks burn a little faster at the start. There's nothing different about this one.
Relieved the child eyes the stick again. This time he's not interested in playing with the light passing through the church windows. His hand reaches for the idle spire. First he keeps it next to the stick. The stick is just a little bit longer. But Chris places the spire over it anyway.
“Chris, take that off.” Too late, the stick has stopped burning. Chris casts a look at his father. Partly guilty, partly begging for another chance. Together they light another match.

An idea lights up in Collin. He pulls his son to him, lifts him onto his lap. He wraps his arms around 
the boy and bends over to study his face.  "Do you remember why you lighted this stick?" he asks.

to part 2

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