My husband is made of ash. He likes to smear himself into my tears when he can’t get them to stop.
“Don’t do that,” I say, disliking the way he raccoons up my eyes with his darkness. The way he blows around me when I’m trying to pull myself together. Was it the scar over his top lip? I wonder, blotting the smudge on my face. The birthmark behind his right elbow? The mole on the back of his index finger?
At night, when I’m sorting through his skateboards and Playboys and comic books, wondering where to donate the belongings of a man who had the heart of a child, he speaks to me: there’s a book of matches in the junk drawer, you know, a barbecue lighter out back on the deck if that doesn’t work, a jerry can on the shelf in the shed if you need a little help.
“Shut up,” I say, stuffing his comics into a box.
He watches as I finally get dressed to go out for something other than spicy ginger beef, cheap vodka, and tissues. Swirls around like he’s going to scoop me up and carry me over the threshold for a second time.
“I thought you loved me,” he says.
“Then where are you going?”
“I need to get out of here.”
His ash is suffocating. It fills my throat. It blocks my breath. I kiss him before leaving, and he is smoky on my lips.
“What shade are you wearing?” my friend asks under the blue-hued lights of the dance club, where my mind won’t release my body no matter how much I drink.
“My husband’s ashes,” I say.
She smiles. “It’s amazing.”
Just a little burn, he whispers, unrelenting in my ear when I’m back home and the room is spinning. I’ll feel so much closer to you.
“I’m right here,” I slur, dumping him onto the bed beside me.
“But I can’t feel you.”
I roll over his ashes, cover him with my naked body, wishing he could do something other than turn into a thick paste when mixed with my sweat.
I scorch my ring finger first, the one holding my claddagh, over the candle on my bedside table. The pain is substantial, but I hold it where I can smell the flesh singeing. Where my scent meets his.
“Stop it,” he says.
“Isn’t this what you want?”
I sear my forearm next, across the tattoo he designed of songbirds on a wire.
He shudders when I howl, plastering his ashes against my face.
“You were right,” I say. “This does bring us closer together.”
He covers me as we sleep, his ash like armour, enveloping me in a way I haven’t been held since he left.
The next morning, I brush him into his paper bag, tuck it inside my tote. He whispers, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, as I ride one of his skateboards down to the corner. As I pick up an order of spicy ginger beef, needing to feel something inside me burn. He clings to my hand as I run him through my fingers, turning his hard bits of bone round and round.
“There isn’t much left of you,” I say, sitting on the curb.
“But there’s enough, isn’t there?”
I nod, eating my breakfast with a pair of wooden chopsticks, thinking about my candle back home.
Notes from Guest Reader Reem Abu-Baker
I like that this story follows a strange and simple concept and uses it to build a specific, compact story, and I really appreciate the way this writer twists a common trope into a new story. I also just love the image of the narrator wearing her husband’s ashes as lipstick—it’s so funny and evocative and dark.