Dirt and Ashes


The girl lying in bed rolled onto her side and pulled the covers up toward her face. She curled her legs in toward her chest and coughed. Her head felt like glass and her eyes ached as if their rims were drawn too tight. Slowly she opened her eyes, looking forward at the radiator on the wall opposite. It was covered in a layer of grey dust - thick dust, thick as cotton wool.

She sat up against the headboard and looked around the room. Everything, not just the radiator, was covered in dust and ash. A breeze came in from the open window and blew the dust into the air twisting it into spirals. Several large flakes of ash floated around at floor level. The soot gathered in piles in the corners of the room, where it had a surface to press against. For a while the girl closed her eyes and listened to the sound of traffic from outside. Slowly she lifted the covers away, careful not to move too much of the dust and ash that had settled over them. The fabric which had been in contact with the air was cold to touch.

A flake of ash, lifted into the air from the movement of the covers, fell across the girl's cheek and stained a grey mark. She scratched it off. She sat up on the edges of the bed and placed her feet on the floor. The floor was cold too, and her feet left ghostly white marks. She took a few large steps across the floor toward the window. She felt like a newborn; a traveller stepping onto a new island, leaving white shadows as marks of existence. It was as if she had come into existence in that bed, and these were her first steps into the world.

At the window she looked out. The streets and the other buildings too, were covered in dust. Cars drove past blowing clouds of dirt into the air. She looked up to the sky. It was noisy and overcast, with brown clouds and some falling particles. She noticed the people walking along the streets outside, going on with their lives as usual - the world had continued.

Kate sat with Sinead on the front step of the house. Kate could hear the sounds of the party through the window above. People were wandering around the hallway and heading into the garden. Sinead was smoking. The ashes from the butt of the cigarette glowed and fell onto the soil by the corner of the step, smouldering with the gravel. Kate hadn't seen her smoke before.Her hair was darker than before and worn tied back. Her way of speaking had changed too. Kate watched Sinead look out into the street, her knees held up, clamped together. She had the same mannerisms she's had as a kid but she seemed fuller now. Less of her was that child who lives in it's own head. She had expression, past and pride (each in some quantity).

Kate thought she looked quite beautiful, actually.

Sinead began talking about her brother. He had been going through a bad period. She said they found him in the garden once, with his toes dug into the soil, the turf overturned. He was saying he wanted to feel the grains in between his toes, and the ants walk over his ankles. Other days he would just sit in his room watching movies. Some shitty western or something; non-stock characters from another age. Films with slow edits, long scenes and empty dialogue. She said that he couldn't find any rails to get onto, not to mention go off. Then it had all changed. He was better now. He'd found a girl, she had helped him, bend and broken him with patience, the usual story. And now he too was different, changed, and still the same.

Sinead looked OK too. She said she was doing OK. She passed over the cigarette and followed the smoke float up into the top window. Kate took a toke. The noise of the TV upstairs switched from music to the news; stuff about the upcoming elections, and then something else about a volcano in Iceland. Sinead said she felt like she was sitting here smoking and waiting for the world to end. Kate laughed and looked over her shoulder back into the house.

The pair walked through the house into the back garden. Standing near the back door were a group of boys discussing music. They were talking about Bruce Springsteen.

"Springsteen sounds like redemption. You can't hear it if you're already there. When you're not a working class teenager, Springsteen sounds like country. When you're in a relationship, love songs sound like happiness - they don't sound like love. I can hear it, but it isn't my redemption, I can't feel it."

The boy who'd said this had curly black hair and a leather jacket. He was smoking too, and after saying this he looked down at the ground. The other boys looked back at him questioningly. What the boy had said reminded Kate of something Sinead had said about her brother and the girl who had found him - that she was his redemption.

Kate wondered if Sinead's brother could feel it now, if he could feel the grains between his toes and the ants crawling over his ankles.

She looked out over the garden. There were a group of boys sitting at the back, smoking weed around the garden table. Nearer were another group just standing in a circle, drinking and chatting. Sitting on the concrete near the back door were a few girls. One was pulling down her dress, another tying her hair back again. And there were some shouts from the kitchen, people dancing, or just mixing more drinks. In the corner of the garden was a girl throwing up into the flower beds, and behind, a guy, her friend or boyfriend or something, comforting her.

Kate followed the ridge of the fence up and looked at the houses opposite, with yellow windows, or darkened shutters. Sinead put her arm around Kate's waist and lent her head on Kate's shoulder. She seemed drunk. From the kitchen came the sound of feedback and distortion, someone had put on some noise-rock or something. The vocalist was moaning in a monotone and the waves of distortion rose and fell, washing over the garden.

At some point in her life (around puberty?), Kate had begun feeling like this distortion coming through the speakers. It had manifolded into an imperfect ghostly copy of her projected ambitions and dreams. She had seem the same in others - beautiful to watch. This had become the driving force in her life - the pleasure of watching your own unique story unfold, not that of a film script.

She'd felt like she'd needed to tell someone about this - but it was clear everyone already knew. It was apparent from the way in which Sinead pulled smoke into her lungs from a cigarette, apparent from the silence in the boys she'd dated. Even for boys by the back door; it was clear from the way they listened out for the glue and sawdust in Bob Dylan's revolution songs. Everyone had longing for that dirt.

A long brown cloud was moving over the sky, from behind the houses facing opposite the garden. The edges reached the moon, and slowly the garden became darker. The girl in the corner of the garden was still throwing up, and now she was crying too. Kate could remember herself in a similar situation. She didn't feel the beauty then.

The brown cloud that had been moving over the sky completely covered the moon. Sinead hung onto Kate, holding her for balance. Now she seemed really drunk. She put her other arm around Kate's chest and began scratching her hand which rested on Kate's hip. She pulled her nails along the back of her hand unsteadily, almost pulling off the skin. The back of her hand began to turn a white grainy red.

Kate took away Sinead's hand and begun to stroke it with the pads of her fingers. This was a trick her mum had taught her to deal with itches. It wasn't nearly as satisfying, and it took significantly more patience, but in the end it would stop an itch without ripping the skin off. Like pulling the bow on a violin string, it seemed to align the skin, and resonate in the hand. She explained all of this as she stroked the hand. Sinead looked up to her, as if to ask "what the fuck are you doing?" but eventually put her head back down on Kate's shoulder.

The brown cloud had passed over almost all of the sky now. The party began to get quieter. Eventually one of the boys who was in the group talking about Bruce Springsteen shouted and pointed up to the sky.

Falling from the sky were large particles. They fell slowly, in arcs and turns. It looked like snow, but the weather was far too warm. Everyone at the party was watching now. The first few particles began to touch the ground. One fell across Kate's face. She reached up and wiped it off. It was dust, dirt and ash. It began to fall more heavily. It was coating the plants in the garden, covering the grass, making everything white, brown and spotted grey.

The girl in the corner who had been crying was now simply whimpering. The boys, smoking weed at the garden table, stared up into the sky. They couldn't stop touching the dust on the table top, rubbing their hands in it. The girls who had been sitting on the steps by the kitchen, too had gotten up to watch, seeing it fall and rest on their hands, covering their hair.

It was falling so heavily now you could barely see twenty meters in front of you. Kate put her arm around Sinead and squeezed her hand. Sinead turned her head, crushing her hair against Kate's neck. Kate could feel her warm breath on her shoulder. The party was silent now. Everyone was looking up at the sky.

And it became heavier, until Kate could see nothing else, just curtains of grey. It covered everything; making it dirty, unfinished, distorted, broken. It was beautiful.