It is customary at the end of the year at New College to lay to rest your undergraduate thesis. We burn them on pyres, on grills, in canisters, watching the flames creep higher and lick over our work, thinking “Done! Gone! YES!” The weight of it is gobbled up in orgasmic brightness.
It is one thing to burn your work in Palm Court, the Center of the Universe (so says New College lore, and so it must be). But some theses are just too big for that, the endeavor too grandiose, the ideas too large for a simple laying-to-rest. Some require a truly epic funeral. Morgan’s was one of these. A literature thesis, delving deep into myth and history, only something so majestic– or downright absurd– as a Viking funeral on the waves would do.
This was a matter for some stealth and derring-do, so Morgan chose broad sunset to immolate her work. We assembled in straggling knots, carrying the best flowers the college had to offer to lay into the boat– gardenias, hibiscus, and of course, the bay front’s finest roses. Morgan showed up last, carrying a small cardboard construction held together with hot glue (this design, flawed as it was for a fiery funereal craft, stuck in my mind, lingering for years).
All gathered, we tromped north in a procession along the water, to the corner of the sea wall, near a clump of very damp trees that would shade us from view. There, Morgan set the craft in the water. One friend produced the lighter fluid. Another, a lighter. The rest of us ferreted out dried palmetto fronds, curling palm strands, and slash pine needles– every fine dry thing we could find. And we set them to the fire, and cast them in the boat.
It would not light. We added more lighter fluid, puzzling over how best to do this.
Still, it would not light. More palmetto. More pine. For the windproofédness of the lighter, it would not light.
And then one of us piped up, “Screw it.” The whole canister of lighter fluid poured like a waterfall onto the thesis’s watery pyre. And then it did light, crackling, roaring, and blasting heat into our faces.
Like a tiny pineapple boat so long ago, the funeral barge stayed close, butting up against the sea wall as if to climb out and set fire to the land. It burned until the fluid was consumed, and all that was left were a few fragments of charred carboard, spattered with remelted hot glue. Morgan fished the soggy mass from the waters, and we dispersed, still smelling of burned things.