Ashes to Ashes
Good kids, the teachers said vaguely of us. Good grades, good manners, good hearts. If they
realized, it’d be something like biting into one of those perfect red apples and finding brown mush.
I mean, we weren’t totally bad if you consider our canned food drives and the school garden.
Maybe those don’t count. Because none of us understood hunger and we didn’t see the point of flowers near the cemetery where nobody could see them except the dead. And the chrysanthemums
succumbed to a weird disease that made their petals decay. That was in November, before the dust. We were all just glad we didn’t have to weed and water anymore.
We were seniors. We knew nothing was serious. Yet we were anxious about how life stretched
out before us, uncharted. Aidan McClellan and I didn’t talk much about this. She was my best friend
since we decided we hated everyone else in our class. She was known for her light blue 1964 VW Beetle, but not much else. I don’t know what I was known for, or if I was at all.
Aidan and I would sit in the back of class, eating our lunch. We watched our teachers speak to us,
their words floating in air. Dust arose like termites from the walls and library books. The ceiling
disintegrated into our hair. The principal said it was normal for a school this old, established 1934, of
course it was disintegrating, what did you expect? The dust coated our desks dirty and dry. Flecks
settled in our lungs. Aidan despised dust. She said it was her third worst fear after natural disasters and
running over a turtle. She wore gloves and complained her palms sweated. Some kids got those blue
Despite the dust, the days were empty. Though, sometimes something would happen. Like when
skinny Blake’s desk spontaneously collapsed and he fell backwards. Like when Mr. Hayden broke out in
hives when smoke drifted through the window. We didn’t know you could be allergic to weed. And once
a man in an orange shirt wandered into French class and threatened to excommunicate us all. After he
was escorted out, Mademoiselle Belle reassured us, saying mes choux, mes choux, God had forgiven our
sins, if any.
I guess we weren’t complete sinners but we weren’t saints either. Every Friday, sweet old Mrs.
Fulton, who constantly brushed dust from her black clothes, would tell us, “Have a safe, celibate, drug
free, violence-free weekend!” She really did say that. And so we’d bring plastic water bottles filled to the
top with not-water to football games. We smoked in the parking lot, letting the dark scent ripple into
our hair and settle on our clothes. We tripped in the forest and watched trees melt. We’d drive as fast as
we wanted our minds to be. We were quite tame. It was a small Southern town.
If Dogwood High wasn’t the only high school here, Aidan would have transferred for sure. She acted
like dust had settled into the gray wrinkles of her brain. It was getting to me too, the way my clothes
were coated with dust, the way it settled in my mouth when I yawned. It bothered the custodians more.
They all quit, saying it was hopeless, that attempting to clean just spawned more. It was a certain sign of
something, they said.
We were excited when an ambulance collected skinny Blake after his asthma attack. After that,
the principal decided the dust situation was interfering with our education. So we were set to work, cleaning the school. We stuffed three trash bags with dust just from the French room. Mademoiselle Belle was impressed. But we ran out of trash bags and realized it was hopeless. The principal quit.
Eventually, we kind of appreciated it. The dust settled into bizarre shapes, like a spaceship or an
antelope or Texas. Aidan said she saw a mass that resembled my face. She would have saved it if she
didn’t hate touching dust so much. If we opened the windows and it was really windy outside, a dust
storm would swirl around the classroom like snow. Even the teachers were okay with it now. The history teacher lectured on the Dust Bowl. The psychology teacher asked everyone how the phenomenon made them feel. The science teacher got her students to perform risky experiments on the dust (the results were inconclusive). And the dust balls that rolled down the hall like tumbleweeds made the place feel almost rustic.
Later, the idea of graduating had consumed us. We barely noticed the dust anymore. School
meant dust, like storms meant rain. We tried on our caps and gowns and bought picture frames. We
sent out graduation announcements, got money, and planned parties. Graduation came in early June.
Dust fell from above as we sat in the auditorium. We could barely see skinny Blake, who had recovered
nicely, give the valedictory speech. As we wondered what exactly had we learned in the past twelve
years, the ceiling crumpled, crushing everything below. We were buried in the cemetery, where no