The Smoke Through His Veins by Jay Wilburn

It’s November and the Music Be The Food flash fiction train keeps on rolling. This time around we’re looking at my favorite album of 2017–Pvris ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’. The song is called “Walk Alone” and the next piece of fiction is by Jay Wilburn. Listen to this remarkable song and then read the outstanding fiction.

The Smoke Through His Veins

She could not save him fully, but she could save him a little. Each time it cost her some part of her spirit she would never get back, but she paid the cost willingly each time.

He bent over medical journals and textbooks in the study nook between the bedroom they used to share and the kitchen he seldom cleaned. In years past, it had been to try to find the cure for her creeping death even though doctors told him there was none. Now, alone together in the house he couldn’t afford, her in spirit and him in flesh, he bent over them for exams. She knew he wanted to save people the way her doctors couldn’t. It would be a noble story for his future patients, but she suspected it would slowly kill him every time death crept and he was forced to give the same answers to others which had been given to him.

A picture of him and her at the beach in Mexico tilted toward his bowed head from the left. From the right, a picture of her in a field with flowers in her hair tortured him further. It was a staged thing and a miserable day which ended in a fight. They were fine later. They always had been, but the picture would induce a false memory of perfection which never existed just as it could never return.

He had his Bible open over his med school books and exam notes. She knew he needed her whenever he did this. The Bible had been his thing off and on. More on since her passing. She never took to it even in the raddles at the end. He prayed over her and brought in others to do the same. She bowed her head from her back and indulged them, but in the darkness behind her eyelids, she never thought of anything to say.

He had the book open to Psalm 91. It was some passage about comfort, of course. Shields and ramparts. Feathers and wings. Made God sound like some battle chicken in a castle. She had trouble reading the words without eyes. Seeing as a spirit was a different business. She could see all the words on all the pages underneath the Psalm and on the backs of pages too. She saw the scrawl of his notes and the typeset of medical terms. Down through the forgotten notes and bills in the desk drawer beneath, she saw too. Down into the subfloor with the water damage he had known about before she died, but ignored now, she saw that too. There were no eyelids with darkness underneath for her to hide from all she saw any longer. Most of all, she saw him in need of shields and ramparts and feathers and wings and chicken gods to comfort him. But all he had was her who he could not see or feel over him.

She reached in again because she knew he needed it. She could not save him fully, but maybe just a little one more time. She felt his heart throb and his veins pulse. The air drew in cold and left tepid. She knew it should all be warm, but she could feel nothing like that in her state.

She released part of her spirit. It bled off of her like vapor and drew along inside him through the currents of his blood. Before the smoke of her soul broke free, she felt it fill the chambers of his heart and settle in the dark places of his brain. She never believed in spirits or souls before she died, but there was little point in denying such things any longer. She knew he had them and she prayed what she let go would be joined with him there.
She drew back exhausted and thinner still than she had been before. She knew she was reaching some sort of tipping point. The house drew away from her and she could not see as much as she had before. For a moment, she thought she might lose it all this time. And him.

But she seized on the frame of the open doorway into the nook. She clutched as best she could with fingers that had no substance. The house held and she with it for now. He still had her just a while longer at least.

It pained her to know he would need her many more times after she was really gone. In time, she would be spent, but photos from Mexican beaches and false fields would continue to torture him from both sides. He would open his books looking for answers which could not be found. He would suffer because he lived.

He laid his head on his folded arms and sighed. She wanted to believe that he felt warm hands over him and her spirit through him. That hope was as close as she could come to faith. He would not be comforted fully, but maybe just. She suspected he thought it was his chicken god from Psalm 91, pouring spirit through his veins instead of her. Even if the feathered one took the credit, she would be at peace with the results.

Read more from Jay at