Ash by Margaret Bentley


My husband wonders why at 48, I have begun to smoke from time to time. It is difficult to explain, so I do not try. But if I am ever stood up against a wall in front of a firing squad, I want to know what to do with the cigarette.


Lung cancer. Now with metastasis to the brain. Mother shook her head at the doctor.

“But I don’t feel sick.”

Back at the hotel, she removes her wig and sets it on the styrofoam bust. Through the door left slightly ajar, I see her bent over the sink, water running, scrubbing her face.

“Rats,” I hear her say. “Rats.”


By the time evening falls I’m so tired, played, numb. Alcohol seduces imagination and I’m letting loose the snake in a voodoo barn and invite a circus to the rafters in my head. I damballa unto exhaustion and awake on the floor of an attic I do not recognize. I know I could get up and walk away and leave myself completely behind.


A woman on the prairie went mad when the wind fell silent. She cocked her head to understand why the grasses remained bent, the clothes on the line still horizontal, and the children’s lips fluttered at her soundlessly. It is no use; hopeless to explain why so many of us turn from home leaving the door open and the dishtowel damp across the threshold. But one pair of young eyes will memorize the cant of her silhouette while the mouths of the older siblings struggle to explain to their father where their mother has gone. She didn’t say – is all they can tell him.


I am riding something wild out of everything I have known and the stars don’t give enough light to take my bearings. I am afraid and just holding on. I don’t know if the monster is where I’m going, what I’m leaving, what I’m riding, or if it is me.There is a grocery list and a dress for a violin recital. The orthodontist appointment and a sexless night that breaks a chain. Why would any one want to know about this? Why do I come here every day?

Margaret Bentley was an associate editor on the last four Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction anthologies published by W. W. Norton. She lives and works in Austin, Texas, where she is part owner of a honky tonk.

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