Thursday, March 22, 2012

Abigail's Ashes

Please let me know what you think, and as always, feel free to be extra stabby with your critiques. It's the only way to help both of us grow.

“Make sure the trenches are at least one and half meters deep and the bodies are spaced forty centimeters apart.” Said Mr. Adams to one of the local officials who nodded obediently. “And no stacking them for the love of god.”
The man sat down on one of the chairs, pulling a pitcher of water from the center of the table. Mr. Adams tapped his fingers on his clipboard. “What are you doing? The longer they sit out there in the heat, the more they decompose.”
The man left the tent, muttering something in his native tongue as he passed through the entrance. Mr. Adams yelled out, “Make sure they all have their tags. They all need a tag!”
He leaned back in his chair, the legs of which burrowed further into the mud. Taking out a pencil, he returned to his checklists when an elderly woman entered the tent. She approached him with her hands folded and centered, head down. “Mr. Adams?” she said meekly. “I hoped to talk to you about—”
“You want to see the big board on the other side of the field for the deceased.”
“No. No. I want to ask you about something else.”
Mr. Adams put his pencil down and looked closer at the woman. It appeared that her clothes had not been changed since the disaster, but then again, none of them had. Their homes and what little they had was under a pile of rubble and mud. “Alright then, what do you want?”
“My granddaughter, Abigail, she died, and I need her ashes. They need to be taken to the temple. I need to perform the rites of death.”
“I’m sorry, but we need to bury them, just for now, until other matters are resolved. Do you understand?”
She shook her head back and forth. “No! You can’t bury her! Her spirit needs to be set free. She will lose the path to the next life if you do this!”
“I understand, but over two thousand people are dead. I can not honor every single request I get. These are unusual circumstances and I’m sure that your gods—”
“No!” shouted the woman. Her elderly voice rose into the high, creaky registers, strained from days spent crying and panic. “Her spirit needs to be free. She will never find the next life if you bury her. Please help me, good sir.” The woman reached into her pocket and pulled out a small tin box. She put it on the table, sliding the box gently towards Mr. Adams. “Please. Help me.”
Inside the box, a couple small coins were crammed in with faded pictures and cheap silver-plated jewelry. “I’m sorry, but the answer is no. Do you understand?”
“I can help you, and you can help me.”
“I want to.” Mr. Adams said. “I really do. But I have to follow the rules. I can't afford to have one of the volunteers search her out.”
“I could find her.”
“There is not enough wood for a cremation.”
“I have wood.” She said with the defiance of a woman fifty years her junior. “I must do this.”
“I have to do my job so that eventually, once everything is fixed and better, everybody can take their loved ones back and you can have your ceremony.”
“No! She will loose her way.” The woman’s bottom lip began to tremble. “It will be too late. Her soul will be gone.” She nudged the box towards Mr. Adams. “Please.”
He took the box and ran his fingers through the coins. The woman bobbed her head forward like a pigeon, urging him to take it. He had heard of people offering bribes to officials, but he had never heard of anything so small.
Mr. Adams shuffled some of his papers and flipped to the volunteers list. They told him to use the elderly only in an emergency during training, but he wondered what that was exactly. To this woman, he thought, this is an emergency.
“You want to help me?” Mr. Adams asked. The woman nodded. “Keep your money. I need somebody to help make sure the numbers on all the bodies are right. Can you do that?”
“Oh yes. I can do this.”
“Stay here for a moment.” He scanned his finger down pages of lists until he came to a lone name. Mr. Adams pointed at the entry, sliding the paper towards the woman. “Is this your granddaughter’s name?”
“Yes, this is her. This is Abigail.”
“Go out and look at all the tags on the bodies. Make sure they all have a number on them. When you see this number.” Mr. Adams circled the co-responding number with his pencil. “It will be your granddaughter. You may take her with you.”
The woman snatched the paper from the table. “Thank you so much. Thank you so very much.” She peeled it from her chest for a moment and looked once more towards Mr. Adams. “Bless you, sir. Bless you.”


John Wiswell March 23, 2012 at 1:09 AM  

Some #stabbylove notes before I hit bed. Hope these are useful.

Para13, the dialogue reads strange coming after non-person description. I figured out who was speaking, but it's a hiccup.

Para18, I don't see why a younger person is necessarily more defiant. There are some psychotically defiant politicans in their 70's and 80's.

Around "No! She will loose her way," I felt like the piece was repeating itself too much. We're circling the same concern without resolving or getting at the meat of her objections, just hammering on the faith-insistence, so it feels redundant rather than building tension. I like that he comes up with something she can do that will allow her access to the bodies, so there's payoff, but the middle feels in need of streamlining before we get there. Potential fixes would be him having more dynamic emotional responses, or simply collapsing multiple concerns into a single exchange.

Helen March 23, 2012 at 1:25 AM  

Interesting story, I'm glad he found a solution for her.

Sulci Collective March 23, 2012 at 3:20 AM  

the first part of this reminded me of a non-fiction book I'd read about a forensic pathologist having to identify the remains in a mass grave in Argentina after the fall of the military Junta there and how all the bones were jumbled up. So I see where the old woman was coming from intellectually as well as spiritually/custom. But then the piece just kind of lagged a bit for me. I didn't really get the significance of the box of trinkets, other than him seeing it as a bribe, what did it represent to the old woman? And also the numbers thing was given emphasis as a solution, but again while we may get what numbers signify to him, what do they signify to her in her spiritual world?

marc nash

Tim VanSant Writes March 23, 2012 at 8:16 PM  

I agree with Marc's comments. Also, unless perhaps there was more than one Abigail on the list I don't understand why he asked her, “Is this your granddaughter’s name?”

Sonia Lal March 24, 2012 at 1:29 PM  

at least he could help her. not sure I understand the being buried will make her lose her way part, but I am not sure a flash would have room to explain that anyway.

Icy Sedgwick March 26, 2012 at 5:24 AM  

I did like this - I liked the fact that a) he didn't want to take her "bribe" and b) he managed to find a way around it which suited them both. He got some much-needed work done, and she got to find her granddaughter (assuming her body had been found). However, I'm guessing by "She will loose her way" you meant she will lose her way?

Michael Tate March 26, 2012 at 10:09 AM  

John, Marc, and Tim: Thanks for the very detailed critiques! I completely see what you are saying about the repetition and how the tension is dropping there. Great job pointing out that sagging middle.

Helen: Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you liked it.

Sonia: Ah yes, the fun of writing flash fiction. Trying to get a whole story and sometimes backstory in under 1k words :)

Icy: Thanks for the comments and pointing out my loose/lose issues. (I'm really bad with those two)

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