In the Ashes – flash fiction by Shelly Jones

In the Ashes

The ghosts are restless.  They wring the dishcloth of its moisture, scatter mothballs in the laundry room, smear the labels on stacks of cardboard boxes with their whispers.  

*****

She kneads the dough, feels the wet, clay-like substance stick to her fingers, gather beneath her ring. Scooping out some of the ashes, she sprinkles them over the dough like scattering the last few seeds from the packet. A chalky film clings to her fingers, embedding in the whorls of her skin. She examines the grey ash outlining her fingerprint in the sunlight streaming through the kitchen window. Warmth embraces her as she folds the ash into the bread, turning the pastry onto itself until it is all a homogenous ball. She drinks coffee and stares at the garden, knotweed and nettle overwhelming the drooping blossoms, as the dough rests, rises, rests again. Someday she will pull them, rip their roots from the earth, free the chrysanthemums and marigolds. But for now she does not have the energy to destroy anything that is so determined to live. 

*****

The ghosts squirm in delight at the smell of baked bread wafting through the house. They circle the dining room table, curl up in front of the empty fireplace, stretch out in the bathtub, waiting for the first cut of the knife through the thick crust: a satisfying crunch that does not come. 

*****

The cemetery is empty, bereft of visitors despite the autumn sunshine. She digs a small hole in front of the granite stone – simple in decoration, brief in verse: a name, two dates. Geese land in a nearby retention pond, honk their arrival before they splash into the muddy water. Placing the small urn into the ground, she sighs, repositions the metal jar, digs into the moist earth with her fingers until it fits perfectly level. She rips a chunk of the bread, dirt smudging the toasted crust, and eats. She cannot taste the ashes, cannot taste his body as he dissolves on her tongue. She swallows. Briefly she considers giving the rest of the bread to the geese, but decides against it. Burying the bread, the urn, she dusts off her hands and wonders if the ghosts will be disappointed.  

Shelly Jones, PhD (she/her/hers) is an Associate Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has previously appeared in PodcastleNew MythsThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @shellyjansen.

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