Philosophy and SpiritualityArts

Ashes and Cinders

I had just finished reading The Book Thief, and having found it a rather engrossing novel, I became interested in testing my own creative writing ability with the setting of a city afflicted by war, as well as exploring, in a literary sense, the emotional toil such a horrific circumstance would cause its inhabitants. Those who have read the book will likely remember the death of the main protagonist’s friend to have been particularly moving. I personally wanted to explore a similar situation from a parent’s perspective. From a first-person point of view, my writing examines the idea of a parent’s love for their child and family, and how the devastation wrought by warfare affects and interacts with these notions.

A deafening bang and a blinding flash mark the fall of what were once bombs. My city in ruin, the houses all aflame, yet my legs carry me homeward just the same. The cacophony of the dying cascades muted upon my ears. The screams of the wounded a distant ringing, I continue my journey. My eyes locked ahead, I do not see the bodies that choke the road, nor the sobbing family members that weep over them.  

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Eventually I arrive. I’m home, but not – a pile of rubble and a lone door frame stand in the memory of my house. Still locked in my trance, I enter this jagged monument, this ashen sepulchre. I hear a noise, and my stupor is shattered like the glass at my feet. I rush in, shouting at the top of my lungs. Again I hear the sound, like a voice. I follow the noise, and come across my wife. Her hands stiff and motionless. Her eyes, once swirling pools of emerald green, their depths unfathomable, now stare blank and unseeing at the cloud-speckled sky. I begin to bend down, her name quavering on my lips, my arms reaching, but the voice from the rubble sends me reeling back. With maddened fervency I continue my search, desperately sifting through the wreckage. I finally locate its source, and my actions become even more frenzied and desperate. 

My fingers, raw and bloodied, tear at the fallen masonry entombing the source of the cry. The last stone falls away — too slowly, too late, revealing the body buried underneath. I fall to my knees, the ground jarring. Gently my arms lift the body from where it lies. I begin to weep, harsh broken sobs, as I cradle my daughter against my chest. Her limp arms dangle, her knuckles brushing the ground. Through a veil of tears, my eyes alight upon the tail of an unexploded bomb. As if in mockery, the planes begin to grow silent, and the bombs no longer fall. The ash begins to rain back down upon the city. I turn my watery gaze once more to the tiny broken figure held in my arms. I tenderly caress her cheek, as if my touch might bring back what has been taken, might pierce this hellish daze. But the tears fall, and still the nightmare remains. With shaking hands, I shut her pale blue eyes, and tenderly cross her hands over her chest. As though she were sleeping, for like an angel does she lie. 

The ash falls like winter snow around us, collecting on her cheeks like snowflakes. The sun’s rays filter through the somber clouds; slender beams settle upon her face, illuminating the tears that trace their paths through the ashen film. Broken and hollow, my eyes fall once more upon the gunmetal-grey betrayal sticking up from the rubble, the ash and cinders swirling around it in lackadaisical clouds, slowly drifting to the ground.

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