by Tom Fairholm
Cinderella is on fire. Her platinum hair melts away in thick, waxy puddles. To be honest, there’s something kind of mesmerizing about it—jarring, sure, but oddly captivating. Kind of like how you can’t look away from a nasty car wreck even though you know you probably should. Her blue dress, yellow hair, white skin, all distilled to their most essential and vibrant colors, lie in tiny pools like acrylic paints.
I’m 19 years old and wondering how I ever ended up spending Thanksgiving dinner alone with a hairy Russian. But here we are, in white shirts and ties, our already awkward attempts at small talk further exacerbated by the language barrier. We stare at each other blankly, hoping desperately that the other will say something to break the silence. Eventually Elder Kirdiapkin passes me some black bread and points to a pot of soup on the stove. “Borsch good for your soul.”
I stuff my face with borsch and my comrade seems more or less impressed with me. I’m scrawny but I shovel down far more than he thought I could. Satisfied that I’ve passed this first leg of the test, Elder Kirdiapkin decides it’s time for me to really sprout some hair on my chest. He beckons me to the kitchen sink. I see tiny dolls, action figures, and little army men standing silently in death row. Their expressions are as blank as they are helpless. I get a funny feeling and for the first time my Russian friend and I exchange grim smirks. First in line is the princess. We light a match.
Springtime in Russia is heralded by Maslenitsa. It’s a remnant of an ancient Slavic ritual in which everyone eats as many pancakes as possible and then lights an effigy in town square. The young and the old gather to “strip Lady Maslenitsa of her finery,” set her aflame, and scatter her ashes in the snow to fertilize the crops. I stare at Cinderella and wonder if spring is coming early this year.
I’m not exactly sure how to explain my newfound proclivity for princess-burning. But this first ritual sacrifice on Thanksgiving Day brings a bizarre sense of moral clarity. Three months earlier, I had embarked on my quest to bring salvation to the godless communists. Now, I watch as my bright-eyed naiveté and unbridled hubris coat the sink in an awful, gloopy mess.
Remember when Elijah called down fire from heaven? He builds a proto-baptismal font: an altar of twelve stones for each tribe of Israel. Then he chops up his bullock, lays it on wood, and drenches it three times. Elijah says the word, and the heavenly flame licks up the water and consumes the offering. A baptism of fire. “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”
Sometimes I wonder if God likes setting things on fire too. In the scriptures He’s burning stuff all over the place. There are those three Hebrew boys in the king’s furnace. Abinadi and King Noah. Sodom and Gomorrah. And that bullock on the wood. I think little boys have a natural intuition for this kind of thing. Call it a divine instinct. Have you ever seen cub scouts around a campfire? You’d think they’d never seen anything so exhilarating in their lives. They’re always poking their sticks into the flames, then chasing each other around with the burning wood and screaming their heads off. You could write them off as deranged little arsonists-in- training—and maybe you’d be right. But I wonder if they’re on to something.
I figure that everything needs to burn sooner or later. And like it or not, our vision of ourselves and of our world—of who we are and of how things are supposed to be—will need to go up in flames. We usually resent this because the fire hurts like hell. But I think there’s something sacred about it. A princess burns and her porcelain perfection melts away. She’s reduced only to color, to her most fundamental and intrinsic hues. Lady Maslenitsa ends the cold winter as her ashes give birth to a new season of life and light. And what about us? What happens when we burn?
I want to be that chopped-up bullock. I want to lay my hands, feet, head, and heart on the altar. The Lamb will lie with me on the wood. We’ll immerse ourselves in the water. The fire will consume us both. We’ll die together. In Him I’ll be raised up, cleansed by the water and made alive in the flames.
“How great a matter a little fire kindleth!”