“Ash” was written for the flash fiction competition “Woolfs Peak” on Needle in the Hay (http://needleinthehay.net/). The aim was to write a story which showed a single event from two different perspectives.
This story was originally published on 15 September 2015: http://needleinthehay.net/flash-fiction-short-story-lydia-trethewey-ash/
The cotton whispers through her fingers, breathing ash and the smell of her grandmother’s chair. A young woman in an empty house, she sits on the wooden floorboards and holds the quilt against her face. An echo of fabric memories, a sick child enfolded in her grandmother’s arms, cocooned in a quilt that occupies the same imaginative space as magic. A crinkle-eyed smile and chocolate biscuits with the caveat ‘don’t tell your mother.’ The young woman traces time through the winding threads.
Blindness could not stop her grandmother sewing. She’d feel her way through the folds, sitting beside the window with the sound of trees as company. ‘You can’t keep living here by yourself,’ people told her, seeing only the long gravel driveway and the gutters filled with leaves and sticks. ‘I love the trees,’ she’d say in response ‘When I die, I’ll come back as a eucalypt.’
It was two years ago that the guttural breath of flames filled the treetops. The young woman knows the sound, from dreams that can’t be slayed. The faint white coin of an early moon had watched the column of smoke roaring up the valley. The cockatoos had screeched, red tails slipping upwards with the ash as night descended around the bellowing inferno. The paramedics found her grandmother in the chair by the window, quilt over her lap, lungs broken under the pressure of smoke. She fell away quietly, to the sound of the bush, that the white sheets and sterile beds could not take her. She breathed out as the burning remnants of trees filled her.
They stand waiting, ready, bristling with anticipation. Their roots run deep, and the tremor of earth as the fire rumbles near sends shivers through their veins. The wind picks up, lifting their leaves into the sky, rattling their boughs.
At last the flames lick their skin and with joyous shouts they feel themselves crack and split. Their veins are filled with oil, their leaves curl into pockets of fire. In the heat it begins, the release of seeds into the nutrient rich earth.
The trees fall away into grey ash and stillness. The leaves are burnt, orange and red, but as the bushland cools a new colour emerges, a bright spring green. Tiny shoots venture out into the sunlight, new life in the opened space. The whisper of ash enfolds the newly born trees.
In 2011 there was a bushfire in the hills where I lived. My family and I were evacuated, however the wind was blowing the other way and so our house was not affected. 72 structures were destroyed in the blaze, but thankfully nobody was killed. In this story I wanted to consider a bushfire not as a site of disaster but as a cycle of regeneration, and through it to contemplate both tactile and intangible memories.
The characters and events in this story are entirely fictional.
Follow the link to read the other short-listed stories: http://needleinthehay.net/tag/woolfs-peak-award/