My Beauty For Your Ashes |
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My Beauty For Your Ashes

By Traci Wooden-Carlisle

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It all started with one lone tear.

It escaped unguarded, quickly falling from her high cheek bone, wetting the concrete below. It was closely followed by another. Soon there was a rain of tears splashing against the once warm, dry stone underneath her patent leather pumps.

As the pictures played in her mind, she fell deeper and deeper under the morose spell that continued to choke the pain and anger from her chest, spreading it to the very tip of her toes.

A warm, wayward wind pulled her out of her stupor, causing her to catch her breath. She sighed inwardly. Mmmm, another dry, beautiful day and I am wasting it with dark memories. She caught sight of the wet ground, wondering, even as she brought her hands to her face, where the moisture had come from. She straightened up, away from the railing she had been leaning over, and looked out over the brush and yellow grass of the old church’s backyard. She straightened her simple, black dress, drying her hands on the soft cotton.

She didn’t want to turn around. She had finally found a small place of peace and quiet in the midst of all the condolences, well-wishers, and those that wanted to share their feelings of celebration for the graduation of another ‘saint’. She worked her shoulders back and forth in a vain attempt to ease some of the tension that had been building since she got off the plane three days ago.

Another gust lent itself in drying her cheeks and she cocked her head to the side wishing it was cool like the ones off of the coast, however, it would have been out of place here. This was not a place of refreshing; it wasn’t a place for light breezes and even lighter cares. The heat was as heavy as her heart, and today it was welcomed. If it couldn’t rain, then she would drink in the dry, Arizona sun.

She shrugged her shoulders, knowing someone would be looking for her soon, if not already. She turned, preparing herself for more awkward small talk, and walked back to the church to eulogize her cousin’s funeral.

The small white church was too warm and the overhead fans failed to keep all the air circulating low near the pews. People were fiercely waving their fans back and forth in front of their faces, creating more heat than the small fans could contend with.

She walked along the side-aisle, aware of some of the encouraging looks and curious stares. She kept her head straight, concentrating on reaching her seat on the front row.

As the funeral progressed and the soloist resonantly sang ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ she kept her face blank of any emotion lest she give herself away before she reached the pulpit. Out of the corners of her eyes she could see that no one from the immediate family was present. This didn’t surprise her; Stone Winters was a hard one to love and almost as warm as his name most of the time. Actually, she was surprised by the amount of people who were in attendance.

As the last person stepped away from the pulpit she took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. As she was introduced as the speaker, she briefly wondered how many would believe her title of ‘Elder’ when she was done.

She walked up the short, shallow stairs to the pulpit, organized her notes, and requested that all present would bow their heads for her short prayer that would lead into the eulogy. Once she was finished she looked out over the sea of people dressed in black and began.

“Stone Winters was a lifetime disappointment to his family and anyone who dared to get close enough to call him ‘friend’. He was a liar, a cheater, woman-beater, and the cause of much heartbreak to his mom until she died four years ago. He used everyone he met and left many children fatherless. When I went to visit him last Friday, he was headed to hell with a long-standing reservation to burn forever.”

She paused as everyone’s breath did at that moment and reached down to grab her glass of water. She took a sip, placing the glass back down with a wry smile tugging at the side of her mouth.

“But God. But God….”


Mason waited with nervousness, causing his heart to beat double-time.

How long has it been? He quickly re-calculated the date and time in his mind, trying to preoccupy it with the figures while taking slower, deeper breaths. He shifted his weight from side to side, trying to see around the scores of people in front of him. He knew the first glimpse would tell him a lot.

Oh come on door, open up. The plane landed ten minutes ago. As if his thoughts conjured it up, the flight door opened. He stretched and strained as he peered over and around the heads crowded in the reception area. The first person who crossed the threshold was a well-dressed, business man, the second, the same. The arches of his feet were starting to tingle now with the held strain of his stance. He ignored it, moving from side to side around the now moving heads of people who were also straining to see and greet their loved ones.

Then she was there. He saw the mop of soft, jet-black curls first. Taller than her twelve years could claim, she was easy to see. He could have sworn she had grown at least two inches since she had left at the beginning of the summer. He stepped forward, just barely mindful of the feet and shoulders blocking his passage.

“Viv!” He called out, waving his right hand like a flag. “Viv!” He called again as he saw the girl look up and around, searching every direction to find out where her name was being called from.

Mason mumbled excuses as he continued to make his way through the crowd. He lunged forward until he broke free of the bodies, ignoring the last glib remark from a person only a few feet from the aisle, forcing his way towards Vivian. He came up against the rope that created the aisle from the flight door, catching the attention of two perfectly wide-set, gray eyes.

“Hi Daddy!” The squeal, melting his heart, he bent under the rope and scooped up his daughter’s thin, gangly frame in a fierce hug. He took in her dusty smell as he buried his face in her curls. When he felt her arms slacken a little, he began to release her, only to have her cling harder to him as he walked to the edge of the carpeted area.

He let her down when they got to the edge of the seating area of her arrival gate. Vivian talked nonstop about her flight and how she met the pilot before boarding and how she had made friends with one of the flight attendants, who kept her cup full of Sprite throughout the plane ride. After retrieving her baggage, they walked to the airport parking lot. It wasn’t until he placed the key in the ignition that she took a deep breath, allowing him to get in a question or two.

“So…? Tell me how you liked Oklahoma? How was Grandma? Did you have fun with your cousin, Asha?” It wasn’t as if he didn’t already know most of the answers, he just liked seeing the excitement on her face when she talked about his late wife’s family.

Vivian shook her head, allowing her curls to move slightly, and giggled. “Daddy, you know everything. You talked to me every day and I sent you pictures…it was like you were there. Gram said if it were 15 years ago, you wouldn’t have let me go ‘cause they didn’t have cell phones with cameras, and you couldn’t go more than 24 hours without makin’ sure I was alright.”

He looked away from the road and into her smiling face, the expression akin to his wife’s. He shrugged and pulled his attention back to the road that would take them to the Stevenson Expressway.

“I know, but you weren’t able to tell me everything. What was your favorite part?”

“Mmmm…let me think.”

As he pulled up to the red light, he glanced over to watch her drum her fingertips along her chin, posing as if in deep thought. He almost laughed.

She cocked her head to the side, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

“Trisha, the cat Gram let me keep in the barn, had kittens. That…”

There was a terrible screeching sound, causing him to look in the rear-view mirror. He caught sight of a medium-size, sky-blue SUV racing towards them. He leaned over his daughter as best he could in that second, trying to shield her from the dashboard and the crushing blow that was no doubt about to happen.

The impact was fierce, propelling their SUV into the intersection. Mason’s head hit the dashboard, sending off a ringing in his ears. He didn’t know what was louder: the sound of metal crumbling and giving way, or his heartbeat. He could feel Viv’s body rock forward and instinctively tightened his hold. Then everything began to slow. He felt her breath against his neck quick and erratic.

Then the car slowed and came to a stop. He opened his eyes only when he couldn't feel the car drifting anymore. He raised his head, peering into his daughter’s eyes, examining her face for any sign of pain.

“Are you alright?” He tried to make his voice sound calm and controlled. She nodded. He pulled back, straightening his frame while trying to get a better look at her. He took a deep breath, sighing in relief at the fact that the crash wasn’t worse. He gave Viv a wry smile and then turned just in time to see a brown sedan come through the light at full speed towards them. Everything went black.

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About Traci Wooden-Carlisle

Traci Wooden-Carlisle began writing poetry and short stories as soon as she was able to form words on paper. She used that as a way to creating worlds, as well as, to communicate with God. A native of Los Angeles, California, she grew up attending United Methodist Church under the leadership of a pastor whose heart was for youth. Once she finished college at she found herself at a loss. She felt caught in the transition between childhood and adulthood. She surrounded herself with saints and volunteered her services as a graphic artist. Through the early-morning prayer, all night Friday prayer and 3-day shut-ins she started on her journey toward her most desired gift, an intimate relationship with God. 

Today, Mrs. Wooden-Carlisle lives in San Diego with her husband, David Carlisle. She teaches fitness classes, runs a jewelry and craft business, and is currently writing her third book in her Christian-fiction series.

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