ASHES


Gregory White skulked in a doorway marking time before one day he would meet with the hangman's noose. He had thought of going to do a spot of housebreaking but had decided to set a haystack on fire instead.
Some still have gallows in the yard to hang the family pig. In the next village, people do not sleep. There are deep pits into which children try to push each other. Women have forgotten to change their crumpled clothing. The wind blows ashes down from the hilltops and they get caught up in your hair. Secrets whispered between friends are carried by ravens and echoed between the stalls of market traders in the town.

The wooden balcony at the side of the bakehouse grows green slime up its length and makes trays of custards fly through the air when the baker is too full of red wine to care.

Mrs Hodges sits in an armchair just inside the kitchen door. She dribbles and rolls her head about. Suddenly she grabs at her watch, winks and swallows it whole.

Wistful young men adjust their collars and walk to chapel, while from her densely netted parlour window, a spinster peers down the length of her path at a red faced boy who drags a stick over her newly painted railings.

Next to the outhouse doors, wet washing hangs out dripping onto black flagstones, steaming and smelling of soda. The cat from the White Hart dances between the waving sheets and wives look doubtfully at the sky for signs of cloud.

Stood at the door in her floral pinafore, Mrs Oats lights her clay pipe and strokes the bristles on her chin as smoke curls up toward a heaven soon to be met. Willis Noels the undertaker mentally measures her up for the casket that will carry her to everlasting peace.

Roses lose their scent and drop petals on the graves in the nearby cemetery. The chapel organ drones, the choir begins to sing as the ministers wife retrieves a lace handkerchief from her sleeve to dab the end of her shiny pointed nose. Worshippers fidget and cough and the town is silent and still. Only the wind in the chimney stacks dare make a sound.

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