Ash Darlings

by | Feb 14, 2023 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-One

During a commercial break I notice the six boxes in the corner of my room. They contain all the drafts of my third collection of unpublished stories, rose petal words, withered.

I look out of the window at the cloudless night sky. So, it’s time.

I pile the boxes in the car and drive them to the lake and burn the stories on a bonfire on the shore. I have no back up copies. Stray dogs bark at the flames as I talk to a woman who’s burning all the copies of her unpublished novel. I ask her what it’s about. She tells me it’s about an unpublished poet, the only hero she wants to write, who in turn burns all his poems.

As she’s describing him he appears then at the lake, walking towards us through the smoke and he asks me what I was watching on tv when I realised it was time to burn my stories, what romance that gets derailed because the writers need it to be so, the small emergencies, the little gods, the old ways following the tracks the dead made in our brains, centuries ago, and I tell him I was watching a halo-lit guru and his two dozen acolytes, sleepily in love, so here we are. And they say writing is a difficult game.

The novelist and I commit our words to the constellations and their blessings then burn the empty boxes and in the treeline all the characters I wrote, only ever me, stand for a long moment then turn and walk away.

I’ve brought a jar and I fill it with ash, then say goodbye to the novelist and her creation who as it turns out isn’t her.

Back home I label the jar and put it on top of the television with the other two. The guru has turned into the weatherman. I think what it would be like to write someone who wasn’t me. How does anyone do that? What a leap, what a walk on hot coals.

Rain is coming the weatherman says. I know from bar gossip that he’s working on a stage play that won’t be staged. A dense take on love, is that what they said? Maybe I’ll meet him at the lake in five years’ time, get him to autograph my fourth collection of unpublished stories before I burn them all.

I’m excited to start the first new story tomorrow. I can already smell the smoke, I can already see the stars.

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