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My hand print was red in the dust. The same as when I was young, maybe six years old, making print paintings with Dad. I crawled, scrambled. The smoke was a dense, opaque white. Ears ringing, disorientated, I stopped to breath. On my hands and knees, hunched over, the paint started dripping from my mouth. It created a Jackson Pollock as it splattered onto the floor. I put my fingers to my mouth. My teeth had been obliterated. As I spat the blood from my mouth the shards oozed into my palms. Sobbing I carried on crawling feeling the inside of my gums with my tongue, only detecting odd splinters of what used to be my teeth.

“Help.” Said a voice up ahead. “Please. Somebody.”

I didn’t even feel the broken glass and rock that was lacerating my knees as I scraped forward, feeling my way, and leaving a trail of red prints behind.

I reached the man that had been calling for help. He was in his late 60s, as I checked over him I realised both of his legs had been blasted off and he was bleeding out.  

“What’s your name?” I said. “Sir. Sir. What’s your name?”

His skin was pale. He was delirious.

“Your teeth.” He said. “You have no teeth.”

It was impossible to see more than a couple of feet ahead of you such was the thickness of the dust and smoke that engulfed everything. Us two people existed alone in our own little pocket of visibility. There were invisible others out there painting their own fatal portraits with severed limbs and torn open torsos.

The gentleman held my hand. He thought I was his wife.

“Miriam.” He said, stroking my cheek. “I love you, Miriam. I always did.”

“I love you too.”I said. Even though I was playing along with his delusion, what I said was sincere.

“Where did you leave your dentures? Not to worry. Don’t cry now. Don’t cry. We’ll get you new ones.”

The grip of his hand weakened, his eyes closed. I carefully folded his arms across his chest. I wanted to stand up. Wanted to get out of this smoke that was burning my eyes and clogging my lungs. I could only crawl. My ankle was completely shattered. It flopped loosely at the end of my leg like an oversized sock.

I was getting weaker, slower. It was as though the Earth had began to boost and isolate its gravity on me. My back and shoulders became heavy, and yet I witnessed a piece of ash defy gravity so effortlessly. So elegant, it danced and floated, as though it was happy to have been alive. Creation, birth, from destruction, and your maker, was he an artist? I imagined the others, out there, the invisible others, writhing, swirling, making their blood patterns. I hear their cries now, hear their screams as sound returns.

My arms collapsed, I could go no more. I rolled onto my back. Then I saw them. I saw them all. So beautiful. The ash angels, all dancing for me, all in formation, spiraling, tumbling. I touch my chest, something has pierced me. Punctured me. Killed me.

I feel something brush my hand. I let my head fall to the side. I see a man. His eyes red and swollen with tears. He’s on his stomach reaching out, straining to make contact. He tries to speak but is unable. I notice he’s crushed, trapped from the waist down by a huge section of wall.

Our fingers lock together. We’ll never let go. His head and neck tremble as he tries to keep them raised, looking up. His worried blue eyes. He is about my age. We possess nothing but our connection. The ash angels fall between us, like snow. I see him taking me to his favourite restaurant on our first date, spilling red wine on his shirt. I see our trip to florence, when I got us lost, and we loved being lost together. I see our wedding day and Dad puts up my old artwork at the party, including the hand print. I see him kiss our newborn child’s head, I see him finally fulfill his dream of riding a camel in Cairo, I see us retire by the sea, I see him die before me. I say it was all worth it.

Although he can not speak, his face, his eyes, ask me:

‘What did we do to deserve this?’