you can still smell the ashes
by f. c. malby
Arson. That’s what the papers said, but no one really knew what had happened. The chairs were all piled up onto tables, slotted together like a jigsaw puzzle, supporting a collapsed roof. It looked like someone had sliced the side off the building, like slicing the end off a Christmas cake with the fruit crammed in, unmoved.
The scene made your stomach roll as you passed on the A road, wondered whether some kids might have ‘just got bored,’ was the excuse that villagers often used, but it didn’t satisfy your need to find the answers. Just got bored is blazing through streets with a dropped suspension and twin exhausts, all fumes and hormones. Just got bored was spraying a work of art along the side of the train tracks and pavement bins. Just got bored is stealing a Twix from the corner shop or lighting a joint in daylight, where the smell seeps through the streets, through windows. Where people say I can smell something rotten. Just got bored is ripping up the vegetable patches and stealing tools from the sheds. It’s not setting light to a whole pub. Or is it? Have you grown so old that you don’t know what kids do these days, don’t know the desperation they feel at being locked down; the detachment from school, the lack of routine, the parents who are trying to make ends meet, the isolation.
You can still smell the ashes, still see the till. You picture the punters downing pints and shouting out quiz answers. The village is being destroyed, says Alice who is eighty-six. The kids have no respect, says Keith who is forty-eight and closer to your age. But the village isn’t being destroyed. Social media is devouring their minds and coming back for more. Their mates are egging them on with no care for the consequences, because the people who say they care are not there. The kids have got something to prove because someone has to be strong. Someone’s got to hold it all together. Arson, they say. Maybe, but blame is not going to fix the problem, blame will burn down more buildings, tear up more families, blame will be them and us, their fault not ours. You can still smell the ashes. Arson, is what the papers said. The papers don’t do the research. They grab a story and run, like a bad car crash. Move on, leaving the kids to be strong, hold it all together, burn down houses. Who is going to fix this? You can still smell the ashes.
f. c. malby
F. C. Malby’s work has been widely published online and in print. Her stories have won several competitions and she was nominated for Non Poetry Publication of the Year in the Spillwords Press 2021 Awards.
Honey Simatupang is an illustrator from Indonesia currently based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She feels most like herself in the dark of the cinema, watching life appear in front of her; and in the first light of day, talking to her houseplant Maurice.