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Drama Sad Speculative

The dreams always ended with rain.

Not water—water was a blessing.

Not hail—hail left nothing but bruises.

This rain was ash.

Ash signaled burns. Ash stained skin. Ash left a permanent mark, no matter its source.

Ash was her name.

It hadn’t always been that way. The ash had left its mark on that part of her life, too.

Shadows hid the room around her. She had been here many times, more times than she could count. The musty smell, the dust in the air, the fine grey powder coating her fingers. It felt like home.

A single spotlight cut through the air overhead, casting light on the laminated cover of a photo album in her lap. The glare hurt her eyes, but she did not blink. She traced the spine of the album with her finger.

She had been here many times, too. Inside this photo album. Outside this photo album, tracing her finger along the edge and absorbing the weight of its contents. Hurt. Joy. The numbness in between.

Carefully, so that the ash on her fingertips would not stain the cover, she flipped to the first page.

A black-and-white photo with perfect clarity and edges sharp enough to split skin. A woman stood with a hand on her pregnant belly. It was not round, but pregnant.

Looking up from the photo album, into the darkness, she rested a hand on her own belly. An empty womb. Overflowing with anticipation, with dread, but empty of what should have been there. Empty of life.

She turned the page.

Another black-and-white photo, with less color than the rest. Monotone grey where there should have been clear contrast between black and white. The edges, of the physical photograph and the people within, were fuzzy. Miniscule tears crossed the surface. She was never sure what held this photo together, but it was always in the album.

There was the woman again, the one who looked like her, the one who she used to know—Anna was her name. Both hands gripped an empty stroller where a baby should have been. The baby had never even seen the light of day. The woman clung to the empty stroller like she clung to her lost future.

Anna wept, and her tears distorted the photo.

Making sure no tears resided in her own eyes, she blinked. She had known this woman, this grief-stricken image of herself, once, but no longer.

The grey on her fingers smudged the photo as her thumb brushed it, turning the page.

A smiling baby girl gazed up with wide brown eyes. She looked nothing like Anna—skin too tan, hair too dark, eyes too blue. But she was hers.

Anna held the child, her cheeks tinted rose—a color that appeared in the photos for the first time here and a color that eluded her now. The colors of the photo were muted, distant hope that belonged to a time long gone.

The child did not yet belong to the woman in the picture, but she would. Her lawyer had told her so.

She turned the page.

No trace of black-and-white. Anna balanced the girl, now a toddler, on her hip. Posters and streamers and excited words she couldn’t bear to think about bubbled around them. A maelstrom of color, with the girl and the other Ash in the center of it all.

The girl smiled.

Anna smiled.

She did not.

She smeared the ash across the photo intentionally this time. The grey drained the color from the photo, absorbing it from the paper itself, until she could no longer make out the details.

This action, this erasing of the memory—this, she had done many times, as well.

She turned the page.

The sight of the woman crying, no toddler in sight, was familiar to her, but not because she saw it on this page in the photo album. Ash had burned the picture years ago. The remains of that picture coated her fingers now, dyed her hair grey, coated the empty photo page when Ash tore it out of the album and thrust it, crumpled, into the black abyss around her chair.

Ash took a deep breath.

Without seeing the picture, she knew.

The weeping woman, once again without a child on her hip. The adoption had fallen through, the child gone back to the birthparents, her child ripped away from her.

That memory, that picture, would forever be branded on her mind. Into her heart—what was left of it, after the child—her child, no longer her child—stole it.

She stood from the chair, sending the scrapbook to the floor in her haste. The motion raised a cloud of dust, sticky dust, grey dust. It swirled around her, clung to her skin, to her clothes, thickened until it obscured her vision like a storm. Ash.

Somewhere in the haze, a phone rang.

She stumbled forward. The ash cloud swarmed around her, assaulted her, disoriented her and kept her from finding the source of the sound.

The phone rang again before sending the caller to voicemail. The words came clear through the whirlwind whipping her hair.

“Hello, Anna, this is Natalie. I know we’ve discussed adoption before, and I know what happened last time, but I have another adoption opportunity for you…”

Her eyes widened. A second chance.

The ash cloud drowned out the rest of the woman’s message.

“Give…call back…5-483…”

“No!” She fought her way to the phone, saw it within her reach, swiped at it and it was gone. Her momentum carried her forward and she landed sprawled on the floor. She scrambled onto her hands and knees and gritted her teeth against the ash. She had to answer the phone—she had to talk to the woman. She had to take this opportunity.

Where was that phone?

Then the ash was gone. The phone, she knew with sudden certainty, was gone. The storm was gone and nothing remained but grey flakes, raining from the sky, leaving their mark.

She sank to the floor.

The dreams always ended with rain.

Not water—water was a blessing.

Not hail—hail left nothing but bruises.

The rain was ash.

And Ash was her name.

November 18, 2021 04:47

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18 comments

Tommie Michele
04:51 Nov 18, 2021

Fresh off the word processor, and pasted into Reedsy with...well, something that doesn't quite equate to "confidence." I'm not sure how clear this story comes across; it's based off of real life, with a miscarriage and then an adoption falling through, and it's a story I am extremely close to emotionally--I'm sure you know how hard it is to do justice to something so close to your heart. How close, you ask? Well, the baby that was to be adopted, the one that was taken back to the birthmom last minute, was going to be my sister. Obviously, I ...

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Alex Sultan
22:00 Nov 18, 2021

Hi, friend - I read your author's note, and I understand this story may have been difficult to get across. I think you did well. I like the imagery, emotion, and how the concept connects to the prompt. The part I liked the most was the colour fading from the pictures and obscuring details. I think that section was very well done and creative. Here is what I have for notes. I hope it is helpful. The first lines are great. It sets the tone and image well, I like the barrage of short sentences, and it sounds like something you'd write(I think...

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Tommie Michele
03:20 Nov 19, 2021

Hi, Alex--I hope you are doing well, and making good progress on your story this week :). I took your notes and Katharine's and applied them, and changed some formatting to clear things up and fix the repetitiveness with Ash. I would be grateful if you could look over it one more time, but I totally understand if you're busy.

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Alex Sultan
21:57 Nov 19, 2021

This draft is better. I'm glad to see you entered it in the contest. The concept of miscarriage is a lot clearer now. However, I do find the double spaces between the scenes a bit distracting - it might be just me. It swirled around her, clung to her skin, to her clothes, thickened until it obscured her vision like a storm. Ash. - I don't remember if this line was in the first draft, but I think it is really good. The storm was gone and nothing remained but grey flakes. Raining from the sky, leaving their mark. -These two sentences feel a ...

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Alex Sultan
08:12 Nov 24, 2021

Hey Tommie - I hope you are well I wrote my story for this week's prompts. I really like it so far - it's a dark thriller, and would I'd appreciate your feedback if you have the chance. I hope to read something new from you soon :)

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19:58 Nov 18, 2021

Hi Tommie, Just to let you know that I don't have time to write at the moment, too much going on, but i will try to crit for you when I can. Firstly - before I start even reading it - I want to say that based on your comment below I can tell this was a brave post. Well done for having the courage. Whatever I may say about the story following this is no reflection on your personal experiences - it is only intended to be a comment on the writing. Here goes: Not hail—hail left nothing but (temporary) bruising. Cut the brackets - it will ...

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Tommie Michele
20:51 Nov 18, 2021

Thank you so much for the crit, Katharine! I'll definitely take some of your suggestions--Ash gets repetitive, for sure, but I don't know yet how I want to go about fixing it. I might switch to first person...we'll see. I just hope I have time to edit it before the deadline. Thank you so much for reading, Katharine!

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Santina Forlenza
18:00 Jan 04, 2022

The choice of the words is brilliant. They seem following each other like in a song. In particular the first 4 lines flow like a little poem. Well done, Tommie!

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Tommie Michele
18:36 Jan 04, 2022

Thank you!

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Palak Shah
17:26 Dec 11, 2021

I love the connection to the prompt Tommie and it was a great read. I definitely want to read more of your work. Could you please read my latest story if possible? :)) Thanks :))

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Tommie Michele
21:58 Dec 11, 2021

Thank you so much! I would love to read your latest :) I’ll pop over right now!

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Keya Jadav
16:46 Dec 03, 2021

Wow, this is absolutely stunning. I liked the way you started and ended the story with the same couplets, carving more impact on the readers. Impresses me how you could cross the line between the two tenses so effortlessly without letting go of the maintained flow. I could tell the emotions are raw and well conveyed. Also, I'd love to have your views on my latest story. Your feedback might help a lot. :) Thank you.

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Tommie Michele
18:54 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you so much for the feedback, Keya! I don't have much time for line-by-line crit this week, but I would love to give your story a read and see if I have any big picture feedback for you!

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Keya Jadav
03:27 Dec 04, 2021

Yes np. Thank you!

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Rachel Smith
08:07 Nov 29, 2021

I liked this, the emotions of loss, regret and bitterness came across really well. The imagery was great, I will definitely read more of your work!

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Tommie Michele
12:30 Nov 29, 2021

Thank you so much! I’ve been trying to improve on my imagery, so I’m glad it came through well :).

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Terri Harrington
22:27 Nov 28, 2021

Tommie, this is a really well-constructed story filled with sorrow, pain, and a brief bit of hope. I really enjoyed the imagery which was deftly handled. Well-done!

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Tommie Michele
12:24 Nov 29, 2021

Thank you so much for the kind words, and for taking the time to read and comment!

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