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Ashtray Coffin

by Forrest Maddux Blackbourn

As Shelby’s four-inch heels click rhythmically on the hardwood
Floor, the afternoon wind tosses the autumn leaves about the
Earth of Carolina. Upon hearing the resounding
Bell, Shelby reaches into the oven to take out the golden-brown
Cornbread. She stirs the green beans that simmer on the stove and
Enjoys the drifting aromas of a meal that she prepares in the
Deep South. As Thomas’s frail body enters, his eyes whimper out of
Despair. Tom Cries, “The doctors said that she was
Mary Claire has been dead for three days.

Shelby was fourteen, and she listened to the Beatles’ new single “Penny Lane”
On the chestnut and metal-horned record player as she gazed into her mirror.
She gasped as her reflection inquired as to why her face could be so overgrown
With acne while her figure remained so simple. Shelby returned to her bed,
And she firmly grasped her copy of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. As her eyes
Meandered about the room, Shelby noticed that her older sister Mary Claire had painted her
Full and lush lips strawberry red. As Shelby read, Thomas came rapping on the
Chamber door. Mary Claire instinctively giggled and descended to meet him.  Shelby glanced out the window and saw them drive off, and she applied Mary Claire’s lipstick to her own

As Shelby glides across the floor to the living room, her dead sister’s husband informs her that
He’s ready to go to the funeral home. “I’m almost ready Tom,” Shelby replies. “Let me smoke
A cigarette before we leave.” He looks up from the Book of Common Prayer and says to her,
“Shelby, I’ve asked you a million times to call me Thomas. My wife always called me
Thomas,” but she closes the door before he can finish saying his name.
Shelby peers into the ashtray on the back porch, and she notices that her sister’s
Filters have red lipstick marks on them.
The ashes paint her fingers when she picks up the Waterford Crystal ashtray with both hands.
While she descends the steps from the back porch, one of her heels gets caught between
Two of the slats. She continues barefoot until the leaves crackle below her
And her toes connect with the red earth.

cigaretteShelby pulls her black skirt so far up her thighs
That she can see her slip as she drops to her knees.
She parts the leaves and digs a shallow
Grave for the ashtray.
She reaches into her purse and soils
A tube of her dead sister’s lipstick with
Ashes and red earth.
She paints her lips strawberry red and lights a cigarette.
Shelby gazes upon the rustling autumn leaves, and
As the billowing smoke parts her
Lips, she smiles and says, “My dear Tom.
You will always be Tom.”

Forrest Maddux Blackbourn is a Ph.D. Candidate in Romance Languages at The University of Alabama and a lecturer of Spanish at Mississippi State University. His critical, creative and journalistic works have been published in The Coastal ReviewVision 2011: Paying It ForwardTown and Gown Magazine, and Divergencias: Revista de estudios lingüísticos y literarios.

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