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An excerpt from

The Blacksmith

Chapter 1

A baby bird fell. It toppled from the nest and was caught in string its mother had gathered for nesting. Now it hangs from its mother’s nest, rotting on a tiny gallows. It drifts in the breeze. Each day, it rots away more.

My name is Ainsley.

I live among the dead.

My grandmother left me this house. She died six years ago of ovarian cancer. My father left us when I was born. My mother killed herself shortly after that. My grandmother raised me.

Behind my house is a graveyard. I spend much of my time there. I tend to the graves, to the dead things, like an anti-garden. To you, it may look somber. Dark.

To me, my graveyard is as beautiful as spring flowers, as fresh as ripe vegetables, ready for picking, mid-summer.

My heart is dead. It does not beat. It died some time ago. Although it is dead, it feels hunger, like a zombie. It lurches on, seeking heat, blood. Sometimes it feels pain. The pain in my heart is the spot where a broken bone, long healed, still aches when it rains.

My grandmother’s house is on a hill set back from the road in a sleepy New England town. The driveway is hidden. No one can find us up here. There was a time, when I was younger, when our isolation frightened me. If a murderer were to break in with a hatchet, I’d be dead and bleeding long before any police could save me. No one would hear my screams.

Now, I love being far away from everyone. It seems appropriate. I want to be left alone with my thoughts and my graveyard. And my secrets.

The graveyard is way at the back of my large yard. The stones are very old and hard to read. I tend to the dead. There is grave dirt under my fingernails. My grandmother told me stories about those buried in the earth. I’m not sure if she actually researched any of it, or if they were fairy tales to keep me entertained. Fairy tales of death, of sorrow, and of pain. There was no fairy princess in these tales. No handsome prince.

The name of the family buried there is Brown.

Mother Brown hated her young daughter-in-law, my grandmother said. They fought for dominion over their small house. The stress finally proved too much for the younger Mrs. Brown. According to her gravestone, she died at twenty-two, but not before giving birth to a child, who died an infant at two months. Poor Hubert tried to be a dutiful son as well as a devoted husband and father, but failed miserably at all three. He found himself caught in the middle between his mother and his young wife. After his wife died, my grandmother said, Hubert’s mother got him back. All to herself.

Set apart from the Browns is another grave. I can barely make out the name on it, but it looks like Bennett. My grandmother told me Mr. Bennett was the family’s blacksmith and friend.

The Blacksmith is my favorite. Sometimes, I sleep on his grave. Sometimes he visits me, in my dreams, both waking and sleeping. His hands are coarse from working with metal and heat. I like their hardness. Don’t give me tenderness. I don’t need it. I love the Blacksmith’s hardened hands, covered in calluses. I want him to seal off my insides with his glowing red poker. I want him to make me a suit of armor to cover my dead heart.

Some people claim they don’t know why they kill. I do it to feel warmth. To feel life. When you live among the dead, you start to miss that. The blood at the end of my knife looks like the red of iron after it’s been cast on a fire. I can taste its heat.

I am thirty-eight years old. My ex-husband, Daniel, left me just after my second miscarriage, when the doctors told us I would never carry a child to term.

Even with fertility treatment, my body couldn’t handle it.

He left me when I was thirty. Daniel came from money, and his family insisted on having an heir. So did he. He is full of himself. Daniel still sends me money now and then, and we visit together. I am not angry with him for leaving me when I needed him most; it can be convenient to have an almost-dead heart. Or was he the one who killed it? I try not to remember when my heart died because then I remember the pain. I don’t want to remember that. And I don’t want to remember when Daniel was my husband. I don’t think Daniel remembered he was my husband even when he was.

After he left, I returned to my grandmother’s house. It’s where I belong. My graveyard friends welcomed me. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were smiling.

I met Daniel in my early twenties. Daniel was an up-and-coming stockbroker. I was an administrative assistant, attending college at night to get my master’s in library science. He was charming, and I was stupid. Our marriage was unhappy. There were other women. My time with Daniel had already killed many things inside of me before the miscarriages came.

Daniel remarried quickly, as I expected him to. He now has four beautiful, blond children—two daughters and twin sons. His wife is lovely. She sends me a Christmas card from their family every year. She doesn’t mind Daniel, and so she belongs with him.

My hair is brown. I dress simply. I try to blend in with the walls most of the time. You might have seen me once somewhere, but I’m sure you don’t remember it.

On my knees, I pull weeds from the dirt by the graves. My graveyard garden is perfect. Healthy grass, spots of lavender. I scattered step-stones throughout the graves, and there is a bench for me to sit on as I read or write poems for Sam. I’ll tell you more about him later.

Beyond the stones, there are other graves. They are unmarked.

Only the Blacksmith knows who they are.