Toasting and Weighting Ash by Jane Ayres

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Toasting



Each doorstep-thick slice impaled on a long fork licked by flickering orange flames, I toast bread over an open fire while Nan fetches butter from the pantry meat-safe.

Cut from stoic cloth, she raised fifteen children in this tiny house, witnessed two World Wars with milky-eyed, mustard-gassed Grandad, now long-wintered, like blackbird song on window snow.

Now, she stoops when she walks, coarse brown stockings encasing thin pale flesh. Now, her pinned ash-grey plait is wound round her head like a Cumberland sausage. But when her hair flows loose and free – a silver waterfall – crowning her shoulders, she becomes a girl again. 

I ask what life was like, then. Her reply always: What’s past is past. It can’t be changed. Life goes on. Then it stops. 

Yesterday, blue tits pecked through foil-topped bottles for the cream, and the wildflower posy I picked – yellow-bright celandines, purple clover – takes pride of place in an empty jam jar on the mantelpiece, where the clock ticks loudly. The fire is slowly dying, pale embers dimmed, like a decaying peach. 

Nan takes the knife, bone handle worn, deftly slices a knob of yellow butter onto hot toast, watches it melt golden. Sprinkles salt on top. Together we sit. Eat. Stare into the fire’s star-spitting crackle. Sharing warmth.



Weighting Ash



You’re heavier than I expected. 

Heavier than you were in the care home before your final hospital admission, murdered by the C-word virus and the C-word government.

The Tesco bag-for-life taken to carry you back isn’t up to the job but the funeral administrator gives me a smart hessian one (light burgundy to match the urn) with sturdy white handles, which helps me get a grip. 

“Any plans?” she asks.

“Sheffield Park, with a couple of his close friends. When the restrictions lift. When things return to normal.”

“I’ve still got my husband at home with me, on top of the wardrobe. He’s not going anywhere.”

“That’s nice.” I notice a display cabinet showcasing crystal jewellery mounted on the wall. Apparently, you can have ashes made into a tasteful pendant or bracelet, so you can wear your loved one. Tears well up behind my obligatory mask. I hastily sign the release form and hurry towards the door. 

Walking beside the busy road, indifferent traffic rushing and roaring, I wonder what you’d think about being taken home inside a container in a bag. My arm aches. 

You’re heavier than I expected.



Based in the UK, Jane Ayres re-discovered poetry studying for a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, which she completed in 2019 at the age of 57. She is fascinated by hybrid poetry/prose experimental forms and has work published or accepted in Confluence, Postscript, DissonanceThe AgonistLighthouse, Viscaria, The Sock Drawer, Streetcake, The North, The Poetry Village, Scrittura, Door is a Jar, Marble, Agapanthus, Confingo, Crow & Cross Keys, Kissing Dynamite and The Forge.

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