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When the fire burned everything they had, into cinder and ash, the family ran from the burning house. Outside, their lungs ached like they’d been winded, but they still were coming up for air. They clung to one another and watched as flames broke through windows and doors until their house was rust, rubble and dust. They stood among the ruins and began to imagine what would happen when they could no longer see the smoky black sky though the ceiling. When their walls were no longer scorched from licks of flames, instead illustrated with new photographs that hadn’t been taken, in new picture frames. Among paintings they hadn’t observed yet. When the house was no longer a shell of what it had been. While they boarded an ambulance and thought about a temporary residence, the neighbours gave them bundles of clothes and packs of food. They stayed behind to sweep the rubble, carefully picking through broken glass and dying embers for the surviving artefacts from what had been before, keeping for the family to remember.
After the politicians shook hands and decided the country was to be divided, bombs rained down from above across the land. Leaving refugees buried in its path beneath crumbling buildings. A higher population death rate in its wake. The fighting carved scars out of the landscape and tore away innocent citizens. A family searched for other horizons, over the ocean. Longing for sanctuary on unlikely boats to unknown locations. When the wreckage washed their bodies to the shore, it did not stop displaced others from trying to provide for future lives. They would sail the length of the sea in boats not meant to float if it held so many, captains of their own diasporic journey. They would hold open their hands for relief in another’s arms and try to imagine what would happen if they could rebuild a life.
After the boy sat down at the table, cheeks blushed and speech rushed while he quivered with fear and told his parents the truth, they released him to the world. They did not listen to how it felt to live within a body that never seemed to belong to him. They swore, they prayed, they changed the locks and vowed not to speak of what happened again. When he left, silence fell upon the house. Though they did not speak of it, there were nights they did not sleep. When his father turned to drink. When his mother sat caressing the dresses he used to fill. They had not grasped yet what he would be, instead they mourned the loss of a little girl that had left them years ago if they’d even had her at all. But the boy was not lost. The boy found a new family. This time they were kind. They called him by his name and treated him just the same. He slept upon couches of people who loved him unconditionally no matter who he loved in return. But at night when he would watch traffic lights from the windows and listen to unfamiliar sounds surrounding him, he would think about a time when he would feel himself. Casting off the person he had been until the person he could be someday.
After she ran from the men who held her as a slave, the woman began to search for salvation in the eye of every passer-by. Too afraid of what would happen if she sought help from a higher authority, she huddled in small corners on hard concrete hiding from strange men passing. Her lips and fingertips were turning a pale blue with the winter wind blowing in. Slept in her coat on the side of roads and tried to avoid the reputation of a street walker. But there were moments of kindness. Slipped coins and notes instead of brown pennies. Warm cups of tea. The occasional person to speak to her as though she were anyone. In her mind she would follow them. She would dwell in their homes and clasp them close and think of them as family. One day she would be free.
After the cop stopped him on the street, the innocent man held his hands up in defeat. His mouth was rendered mute and he followed orders. Hearing his heartbeat in his ears, eyes locked on the officer’s holster, he remained silent. It was his right. Sitting in the back of the car he heaved a sickened sigh of relief. He had wrongfully been taken in what would be an exoneration. Nothing worse had happened. His name would not be linked in the unending chain of men like him, the black bodies and the families who protested in outcry as their loved ones brothers, husbands, fathers and sons were labelled criminal. Gangster. Potential to fire what was thought a weapon. It was in the police self-defence. You or them. Shot down by law enforcers over and over. ‘A tragic misunderstanding’. Held in the holding cell, waiting for the questioning his head reeled. The rage bottled within him, an unrelenting wail he would conceal. How would they frame his narrative? It would not be a narrative of injustice. Just another accident exonerated on the system. It would follow him on the system as if he’d been the criminal. Though it was a simple case of wrong time, wrong location, wrong body to be in. After the isolating hours and the exhaustive questioning he was finally released. The morning sun beginning to rise over the mountain. His body grew light when he saw his wife standing in front of him, through the door to freedom. She was small and he crouched down, releasing a swell of tears, the well of what he had held within him. She gasped slow, she had cried her tributaries before, he had taken the wind from her lungs. But in one another’s arms was the only place they felt safe.
After all that they have struggled and strived through, there is still an endless perseverance. The inexhaustible possibility of humanity. Always building and rebuilding. Reaching out and gasping for our sisters and our brothers, we must learn to love one another. Not as you or them, but we and us. To want, to love, to pursue, to follow paths, to laugh. Compassion, a flickering candle which must keep from extinguishing. We are all human. From the same freckled speck of cosmos in an ever-expanding universe. We are all somewhere between wild and tame, everybody has someone to blame. Have we always been evil or are we only getting worse? Not good or bad throughout or historical time frame.
But if you treat me like a human, I will treat you the same.
Fiona Murphy McCormack
Fiona Murphy McCormack is a 23 year old writer from Northern Ireland. She has a BA in English with Creative Writing from Glyndwr University in Wales, and an MA in Creative Writing from Queens University Belfast. She has previously been published in Electric Reads, Germ Magazine, Fearlessly, The Elephant Ladder, Crossways Literary Magazine, Santa Fe Quarterly, Fairlight Books, Everyday Fiction, Persephone's Daughters, Route 7 Review and Crossing the Tee's Anthology.