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Ash and Dust 

by Views: 227

Riley slides the mug across the kitchen table without looking at me. Lights her pipe with a long match – the easy-strike kind made for campfires and charcoal grills and all that happy family bullshit that I’ve only ever watched from the periphery – and holds the stick out, a kind of offering, a temptation. I watch the flame lick its way down the length of the stem, the wood curling into a comma punctuating the silence between us. Light dances around the bend of her wrist and up the pale length of her arm, catching in that tangle of red curls. It scorches me, the look of her. I take the match and fish a cigarette from my pocket so I got something better to do than stare at her face and see all the ways I’ve betrayed her. Take a long drag and hold it in. Let the heat build in my lungs until the match burns down to the tips of my fingers. I shake it out, extinguishing the light between us, and exhale.

My right eye weeps where the boys beat it shut. Tears worm their wet trail down my cheek, eroding the crust of dried blood. I feel the wounds open. Riley hands me an old dishrag from the sink, and I press it to my face.

“Why?” she asks.

I study my swollen knuckles. Tap my cigarette against the rim of the mug.

Way I see it, you gotta be kinda dried up on the inside to steal shit in the Deadlands. Most people out here were farmers once upon a time, before the crops withered and the winds stripped the land clean. What folks own, they hold close. Something like a car inherits layers of meaning, becomes more than the sum of its parts.

I used to watch my old man stagger out to his pickup with a bottle of cheap gin and idle for hours just stroking the wheel, arm slung over the passenger headrest like Mama was beside him and not smothered beneath six feet of dirt. Once, while helping him replace the catalytic converter, he told me it was the only way he could remember what happiness felt like. I sassed him about it later and got my ribs stomped in, but it stuck with me, the value of inanimate shit out here.

So I know I must have a real famine of the soul to steal from Riley. Worse than that, I led those drug-hungry alley boys to her just to get at my old Harley and feel the rush of the road again.

“You’re too smart for this shit,” she says

“Wednesday. Didn’t think you’d be home,” I say.

Beyond the panes of the kitchen window, the last flicker of daylight burns its way across the horizon, those embers of daylight red and raw at the horizon. We stand there until the sky cools into night, the stars like ashes.

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Andrea Imdacha works in marketing and product development during the day, but she has been moonlighting as a writer and a poet for many years. Recently, she was nominated for UCLA Extension’s 2016 Allegra Johnson Prize in Novel Writing. She lives in Savannah, Georgia with her husband, her dog and the ghosts of all the novels she has yet to complete.

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