Sitting in Ash

Sitting in Ash

Sean Riley

I had almost five thousand followers at the time of the fire. The account at-fridge-magnet-poetry wasn’t exactly an influencer, but I felt like it was a worthwhile artistic endeavour and I had turned it into something slightly more than a hobby.

The irony of photos in the digital world, streamed across the sky and interspersed with text messages, social media posts and porn videos; but anchored to one physical place – my refrigerator – and one physical set of magnetized scrabble letters, made me happy. It gave me a feeling of crossing over, of connecting different worlds together.

A new person walking into my kitchen would have thought I was pretty crazy. The lighting setup around the fridge looked like a movie set. Silver reflectors, flashbulbs and tripods were mounted in between fruit bowls, knife racks and hanging frying pans. I could have built out an actual photo studio in the garage, but then it wouldn’t be my fridge, it would be a prop; not the real thing anymore at all. It had started with the fridge that contains my groceries, and it would continue that way. Anyway, the garage had been converted into a dark room to develop the photos from my antique Nikon DSLR, so there was no room out there for a fridge.

I posted every day. Blobs of text, artfully arranged and creatively photographed. The project had a surprisingly wide disciplinary scope; a convergence of literary snippets, analog execution, digital composition, and true modern-day social media marketing; an art of its own.

“Tuneful Idiocy makes me cry,” was the entire poem one day. Photographed in the early morning, just before sunrise with sharp shadows from the streetlamp outside, I used a long exposure that captured some ambiguous reflections in the chrome of the fridge handle. The posted photo itself I left naked, but my story that day overlaid it with an animated “Feels” sticker and mood hashtag. It got some comments asking if I was okay. I was fine.

This morning, I was poking through the burned-out rubble of my apartment. I crossed the line of yellow do-not-cross tape and felt unidentifiable somethings crunch under my boots. Those could be the remains of anything in my life. I didn’t want to know. There was almost nothing left that came up above my knees.

Standing alone in the space that used to be my kitchen was the husk of my beloved refrigerator. The door hung open as if something had burst out from the inside. I picked my way through the ash-covered remnants and stood before it. There was a poem laid out in scrabble letters. Well, a fragment of a poem anyway.

“Feeling Like Death,” it said, angling down further with each letter as if the phrase trailed away into silence. Pretty cliche technique, I’d gotten over that trope years ago. But I hadn’t written this one. I pulled out my phone and checked my photo log just in case I was losing my mind, but no. I never wrote that.

An alert popped up on my feed. I reached to swipe it away, but then stopped as I recognized the thumbnail. I tapped and my eyes widening as it opened.

“Feeling Like Death,” the tiles on the photo said. A photo in my kitchen of my fridge with my letters in my lighting in my house. Tagged last night. Not taken by me.

I sat down, or rather I slumped down to the kitchen floor, raising a cloud of ash. Oblivious to my now-filthy clothes and coughing from the crap entering my lungs, I tapped furiously at the screen to find out more. The account was new, zero followers, zero description. One post. One message. At-Feeling-Like-Death was also my latest follower. Involuntarily, I looked over my shoulder.

Sean Riley