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  • Esmé James

The Ashes

Published in Rabelais, March 2020


The air is murderous. Stay indoors with windows closed. Keep activity levels as low as possible. Four presents are discarded in the corner. We couldn’t open them, it didn’t feel right. A childhood dream finally realised. Australia has had its first white Christmas. My apartment is suffocated by a cloud of smoke. Remnants of homes, of beings, fill the sky. I can’t see passed the memories. Who do they belong to?

There are no longer faces in the streets Only masks. Try not to breath too deeply. We have forgotten what the sun looks like - Days and nights merge in the smokey haze - But we can feel it, the heat Creeping into our throats, finding a home there. No one speaks except for the phone buzzing Issuing new warnings. I used to love the smell of fire.

I was eight, sitting in that computer lab. Gawky, green word-art on screen. In 100 years from now, the world will be burning. There was laughing. Matt pretended to be on fire. I went home and turned off every light switch Googling conservation, preservation, words I didn’t understand

Crying while my mother held me 100 years is a long time away.

Yesterday, that computer lab burnt to the ground.

They tell us that we are at war One waged on ourselves And we are losing. Twenty three years packed up in a single cardboard box I’d never thought about which memories I valued before. My dad’s is empty. It’s all or nothing. We switch on the TV to see the numbers rise Pixelated stick figures symbolise the bodies Who did they belong to?

An entire nation holding their breath Staring at phones, waiting for signs. I’d forgotten about the cricket until marketing reminded me.

An old face stares up from that screen today You used to sneak me apples when dad bought his groceries

We shared laugh but never our names. Under a pixelated stick figure, I finally learn it. I try to call out to you, to thank you. The sound falls as ashes into my hands.

Breath building in our lungs Ready to burst, pour from us as Tears we’ve been too afraid to cry. I am done with their waiting. Tell me where the heart of the fire is I will comfort it, hold it 100 years is not so long away.

I am living in a world and that world is burning.

Let me listen to what it has to say.



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