Father of Ash

Somehow no one remembers you. You’ve disappeared from my story, the way you disappeared from my life when I was ten. I was always there, but you stopped noticing. Did it hurt you to see her face in mine?

We had no portrait of her, only a charcoal sketch a tinker had done once, and she gave him a coin, because it pleased her. I kept it in the wardrobe under the linens, and the napkin above it took on a grey, ghostly image of my mother’s face. I polished spoons and watched my own face stare back, stretched and strange. I tried not to forget her but already she was blurring into that charcoal outline. I wondered if her eyes were blue, like mine. I couldn’t ask you. And there was no one else to ask.


I lost myself in wanderings, walked stony paths where trees grew straight and tall, their arms tight against themselves, giving nothing. They stood like ladies, those narrow trees, no unruly limbs flung out to muss their skirt lines. They’d pass at court, with such deportment.

But I ran wild, ran far from proper trees and garden paths. I scuffed my shoes through the stubble of old hop-yards, tore my skirts on fences. I lay under twisty branches, watching clouds slide past. I wrestled with tangles of thorn and came home with baskets of blue. You ate the berries. You never noticed if my fingers bled.

Once, at night, I heard you cry out in your sleep. I came to wake you; you grabbed my wrist tight, pulled me close to your whiskery cheek, called me by my dead mother’s name. I felt the strength in your hand that prisoned my wrist, felt where the cold had cracked your skin. And when your eyes opened and you saw who I was, I felt you hesitate, that one moment. That moment when I pulled away and you did not let me go. And then I was free and you called me, called my own name, but I fled. After that I locked my door at night, pulled the quilt over my ears. No one came to comfort my uneasy dreams.

Perhaps I asked the trees for help. But the trees gave no answer.

Soon after that, she came, with two laughing daughters unmarred by sorrow, and if the laughter was cruel, you didn’t see. They filled up that empty space for you, made you forget. You forgot me. I gave myself up to a life in shadows. I let myself be swept into corners, like ashes, like dust. Like a scuffed shoe you won’t wear again.

Perhaps I asked the trees for help. Perhaps the trees answered.

For now there’s a new shoe on my foot. And you kneel before me like the grey ghost of memory, asking only for my forgiveness, knowing it’s a grace you never taught me; knowing it’s the hardest thing for me to give.


 Kathryn Kulpa’s stories have appeared in Angels Flight/Literary West, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, and Superstition Review. She was a winner of the Paper Nautilus Vella Chapbook Award for her flash chapbook Girls on Film. You can read more of her work at kathrynkulpa.com.

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