AFTER THE FIRE • by Stef Hall

She sits with her bare feet in the ashes and cries. Around her the timbers of the house creak and groan as they settle, contracting.

Her feet are grey with ashes. They remind her of dead things. She rubs them, but it only spreads the grey. She worries at them anyway, the rhythmic rocking a comfort to her.

The wallpaper has blistered and peeled, hanging from the walls in charred tendrils. She remembers the mess he made when he put it up; a knocked-over tin of wallpaper paste meant replacing the carpet. It’s patchy now, charred through in places, the man-made fibres melted into twisted lumps.

Between her feet is a lump of plastic. Misshapen and melted into the carpet, it took her a long time to work out what it was. She nudges it with her foot and it shifts, still soft in places, so she can see the inner workings. He kept saying he was going to put it up when he got around to it. He couldn’t be bothered.

He never will now.

As they bring the body bag through the front room on its trolley, she wrenches the melted smoke alarm from the floor and puts it on top.

“He’ll need it,” she says, as the second set of paramedics bring the smaller body bag down the stairs.

The fire chief frowns. “What for?”

She brushes the hair back from her face, leaving a grey smudge across her forehead.

“It’s hot in hell,” she says.

Stef Hall is a 30-something country girl living in the big city with her musician partner Paul and their bonkers cats. Stef writes short stories, some of which have been published, and novels, all of which have not. Yet. Although she says she does not write poetry, occasionally she does, and even more occasionally she does it well.

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Every Day Fiction