It came on the breeze and it came through the trees and it landed on everything we could touch. It floated on a sigh that swept across the corrugated cardboard city, reduced to bits and pieces of people.
It was ash that came down from the clouds, like rain that would scorch you, raindrops that would scar in a thousand different places and remind you of the day they trod on your home and crumpled it up to recycle. As the wind stirred, the white ash would flutter and settle and suffocate everything in a layer that tried to erase the blemishes underneath, conceal from the eyes the aching structures below. The world was feeling heavy that day, alike many before and surely many after. It hadn’t really had a day off recently. In fact it was working overtime.
The metal birds had done it. They didn’t sing in the dawn or chirp as the sun threw life into the world, they circled above the clouds waiting and breathing until they could part them with their fire that coloured the city orange and red. Roofs didn’t stand a chance, basements just weren’t deep enough and people fell by the family. In each other’s arms, cradled under covers by the tepid fire or sitting alert, watching from the window as holes were bitten into the city.
They thought it wouldn’t hit them. They thought the bombs would land elsewhere. On somebody else’s home, shattering somebody else’s shop window, scooping out craters in somebody else’s park where the children played football and hopscotch and threw conkers at each other. But inevitably, they come for you. And they don’t take no for an answer. They don’t assess the situation and pause for you to stumble over protestations and pleas. They just knock you back.
As the ash fell, the city decayed. There was a blanket of silence, muffling the streets. Not even leaves raised their heads, almost out of respect for the fallen. Like a bruise the ache spread through the buildings brought to their knees, through the stones adorning their feet, through every piece of human being sewn into the rubble. That day the earth shuddered on its axis, it teetered slightly as it spun, and it uttered a minute sigh for mankind. One that told it was promised better things out of these beings. And one that hoped they would rise up and carefully knit together the destruction into something brighter and healthier and warmer. Something to make the ground sing.
Until then, the cardboard city would remain stolen away under a coating of ash, sealing the people into their homes forever. Painting the place in white, ready for someone to scrawl a new story into the city.
Photograph: bnpositive via Creative Commons and Flickr