An Epitaph

Gia Arora
2 min readOct 15, 2023
A lit candle in a dark room
Photo by David Tomaseti on Unsplash

This morning, I started reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yesterday, my friend told me she related to the thought process of a character in a different book. Today, I understood what she meant. I have not yet finished a single chapter and am therefore in no position to make any assumptions about the book, but I can say with some certainty that the way one thought veers into the next before looping back around is a truth that is quite impossible to capture, and that Joyce captured it anyway.

I like this book. I like the fact that it is prose, but reads like poetry. I like the fact that every word is a refrain, in and of itself.

How can every word be a refrain? A refrain is repetition. But every word is repeated, is it not? There are twenty six ‘the’s on this page.

Yesterday, for the first time, I heard the words “The universe turns differently when fire loves water.” It was in a school production of Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love. The universe. Does the universe turn? The earth does. The world does too, because it is so often synonymous with the earth, and also with the universe. The universe and the earth are not the same, though. We are prideful enough to claim one word, but not enough to claim another.

When fire loves water. At first glance, this is a love of purification. Fire consumes, water quenches. Fire destroys, water placates. To be a demon and still love an angel is an act of worship. But that isn’t all, is it? It is always first the flood and then the flames. Because water in small amounts destroys nothing, save for fire, and fire consumes everything, save for water.

All the ancient civilizations were built on the banks of rivers, but the greatest discovery in the history of man is that when flint is rubbed against stone, it produces sparks. We cradle Prometheus’s gift to our chests while praying to that which kills it. With a sizzle and a spattering of dewdrops, the fire goes out.

If the universe turns differently when fire loves water, what happens when water loves fire back? When it longs for something it can never have, lest it destroy it? Which is worse, to love ruin or to ruin love? There is a beauty in broken things, but not in breaking them. Would Icarus have nestled so deep inside our hearts if his fall hadn’t been a result of what he wanted the most in the world? Freedom, with a side of irony. Love, with a tinge of salt. When water loves fire, the universe turns as it always did, because when water loves fire, it makes sure never to let it be known.