Investment Banking in Reverse by Dolan Morgan

From the Editors

We originally published “Investment Banking in Reverse” in 2011, in the first print issue of apt, and again in 2014 as part of Dolan’s debut story collection, That’s When the Knives Come Down. It was obvious then and continues to become increasingly clear that Dolan’s fiction oftentimes reveals the crushing absurdity of our reality. “Investment Banking in Reverse” is grotesque and beautiful, sad and funny—as they say—because it’s true.

Right now, when we’re questioning whether and how art and literature can effect change, we hope you’ll read Dolan’s story and consider the millions of people whose lives are worsened—and, at times, overtaken—by medical and educational debt.

If you have the means, we’d encourage you to help decrease that debt, either by donating to RIP Medical Debt or The Debt Collective. And to make sure everyone continues to have the health care we all deserve, we’re also suggesting donations to Planned Parenthood.

And for more information on the story behind the story in IBIR, read Dolan’s note below.

Many thanks for your support, always—

Carissa Halston and Randolph Pfaff

 

From the Author

It’s easy to describe why I thought re-sharing this story might make sense today, but also hard to accept or comprehend. As with a lot of my work, the process of initially writing “Investment Banking in Reverse” involved taking a simple issue (student loans and medical debt) to a hyperbolic extreme, one that I thought was a clear departure from reality. In this case, a straightforward dystopian premise imagines a world in which the only institution to survive the apocalypse is the debt industry. When I wrote it, I labored under the belief that I was rendering an absurd portrait—an over the top, impossible, and unbelievable scenario. I thought to myself, “Here’s a crazy idea that could never happen!” but reality has repeatedly toppled that sense of absurdity or any real claim to hyperbole.

Since its initial conception, the 2008 financial crisis crippled the country and put predatory lending in the spotlight; a ballooning student loan system became a prominent political issue; the ongoing battle over healthcare reform has highlighted the untenable choices that people and families must face, weighing physical well-being against financial security. Today, my social media feeds are awash with crowd-sourced medical care campaigns. Today, my mom—who has dealt with a degenerative neurological disorder for many years—wonders whether or not she will die, or at least suffer terribly, because of new healthcare legislation. She wonders where the money will come from and what will have to be given up in order to make it through another day or year.

And so, it becomes clear to me that this story is less an absurd caricature than I intended, and increasingly more along the lines of non-fiction. Certainly, it feels more relevant today than when it was originally published. I often feel useless and powerless in the face of what’s happening in our country, and I wonder what I have to offer, or even what writing in general has to offer. I don’t have an answer to that question (at all), but, in addition to sharing the story itself, we’re inviting readers (and anyone really) to consider making a donation to a few organizations that are working to relieve debt and make safer, healthier, and more reliable medical care. If you read this story and find yourself thinking, “Wow, we really have taken a few too many steps toward the world depicted here,” then I hope you’ll reflect on what we can do to change that—whether that’s with our money, time, ideas, or work. Either way, I hope you enjoy this piece, “Investment Banking in Reverse,” and that you’re having a wonderful day. Thanks!

 Dolan Morgan

 

 

Hundreds of umbrellas call for serious protection, not just a lock or bolt or curtain. Look at them there, all black and open, scattered across the roofless warehouse floor—so vulnerable. They needed me. What would they be without me? Just another heap of forgotten ideas fluttering about a dying fire, some meaningless amalgamation of chemical, alloy, and fabric. I could give them more than protection—definition, purpose, direction and utility. Where the building once met the ceiling, hills of shattered brick and dust filtered the sunlight into distinct rays, thick beams that fell hard on the sea of umbrellas—as if the elements aimed to destroy them all, one by one, were it not for my stewardship. I’d counted the lucky find fifty times or more, spending the afternoon traipsing through the warehouse, back and forth, smiling and not believing it to be real: four hundred thirty-two black-nylon-fiberglass-and-aluminum-retractable-oak-handled umbrellas. All mine—all my flock of motionless, rain-resistant sheep.

But how to keep them safe?

Outside the splintered warehouse doors, the dry earth’s cracks and fractures spun toward the business center’s main drag, still clouded in gusts of wind and dust that raced casually around occasional, jutting remnants of industry. Here and there, forklifts sat naked where businesses used to open and close. Unrecognizable machines and appliances waited for someone to use them, desk chairs called out to be sat on, tangled phones impatiently strangled loose, unread files—but no one came here anymore. The storms and sadness and fear of radiators kept us out. Of course, other people passed through the business center, but not for long and not from our town. Our town sat safely over the hill and in the valley, everyone “LOOKING FORWARD, NOT BACK!” with a current of unspoken “PLEASE DON’T REMIND ME WHAT’S HAPPENING” that always threatened to make the transition to spoken but never realized it. My father told me visiting the business center is nostalgic, sentimental and naive. Years ago, he worked here, commuting every day by train. What once took him just a half hour now exhausted over an hour and a half of my morning and afternoon, a rocky bike ride in both directions. I hoped the isolation might protect the umbrellas from would-be entrepreneurs, if only until I thought of something more secure, but time was short.

Apprehension seized me and I had to stop and look back just one more time before I left my umbrellas behind. God, they were glorious! I made fists and danced, then hopped on my bike and pedaled off over the foundations of forgotten stores and shops, shielding my eyes from the dirt, practically singing. Maybe I could revitalize the area with my booming weather preparation business! “Sure, we started small, but you can never get enough umbrellas—that’s my motto,” I’d tell the reporters. In any case, I could get a leg up on my loans. Maybe at this year’s Loan Day Celebration the town council would crown me with the plastic scepter and ceremonial sash so that I could lord it over everyone while we snacked on peaches and fruit cups. Me—King of the Loans! For a day! Or an evening, rather, but still, I could just about taste all of the three to four hours of glory, syrupy sweet.

I pedaled into town through the old turkey path, dodging cans and bones and old newspaper, skidded out onto Park Street and made my way to the bus stop, barely able to hold in my giddy mood. Collin waited for me on the bench. He almost made the place look like a bus could show up, if you covered one eye and pretended the sign that said NO BUSES meant something else. In a way it did, but not anything I ever understood. I put on my best “I haven’t been ecstatic about four hundred thirty-two umbrellas” pose when I approached him. It included at least 20% glower, but also equal parts tousled hair and hand in the pocket. “What are you so happy about?” Collin asked without even looking at me. He had a fish in a bucket next to his feet that splashed and flapped like flapping and splashing might make a difference. The hook fresh in its mouth leaked cloudy wisps of pale blood, pink in the grey water.

“Nothing, why do you ask?”

He shrugged his shoulders and did that thing where he looks off into the distance because he wants to say something but can’t figure out how yet. I sat down next to him on the bench and we both gazed toward the mountains. I took out some sliced mango from my pack and started eating it. Collin had some too. He sighed and tapped his fingers. “So,” struggling to find the words, he squinted a bit and then said, “we have to go to the post office because your dad agreed to bare-knuckle box Carl Stanley for everything he owns there in the back lot and everyone’s going to be there and man, I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you but there it is so let’s go because we’re probably already late.” I chewed my mango, then another slice. Not quite ripe.

The post office roof held hundreds of onlookers, but Collin and I managed to squeeze to the front. Down below, a circle of locals and postmen caged my dad and Clark, both bloody and shirtless. Mr. Stanley didn’t need to box my dad, but debt collectors usually agree if you ask. Ever since the issuing of our new interest rate contracts, which included “the boxing clause,” basically a cruel joke I think, stating that “any persons in a fiscal relationship with Sally May Holdings, Inc. can, if they choose to do so, file for a boxing match, pursuant of a claim to paid-in-full standing, to be witnessed and refereed by officials of the collector’s choosing, and following standard bare-knuckle regulations and procedures,” upstanding men opted to lose everything on a bout of fists they couldn’t win. Each one of them believed that they, finally, would triumph as the single hero to beat the mountain, but debt collectors are well fed, well trained, and have the refs on their side, so it’s all hopeless. But if anyone could do it, my dad could.

He didn’t though. Mr. Stanley’s chest dripped blood, but not an ounce of his own. He pounded my father like an angry baker kneading bread. For a moment it looked as if my father had reached into himself and found the secret, the hate, the drive and the love and the hope to bury Mr. Stanley under a maelstrom of new strength that can only come from near defeat, but the secret ended up just being a gurgle of teeth and blood and spit and dirt, all the ingredients of every myth and fable of the have-nots, dripping off his chin and waiting for a silver spoon. My dad didn’t look like a hero, but more like an undercooked calzone flopped in a heap on the post office tarmac. Mr. Stanley toweled off his immense body and I told Collin I needed his help.

“With what?” he asked.

“Security,” I said. “And umbrellas.”

I didn’t say anything else until much later that night. First I saw to my father’s emergency medical care, assured his smooth admittance to the hospital, the last of my paycheck incrementally exchanging a glove shop’s worth of hands. Dad had been taking out Mr. Cormack’s trash for a few months, so I handled that in his stead. Most of the lawns in the area are well maintained, but Mr. Cormack’s is immaculate—lush, lizard green and a cool, tender texture. If he didn’t have the energy to remove the trash, I can only guess where the strength to comb over the lawn could have come from. Or maybe he just didn’t have time for the trash, his dedication overriding responsibility and hygiene. Whenever I accompanied Dad to Mr. Cormack’s house, we’d find him either hunched over a patch of weeds visible only to him or silently slouched on his porch chair in an argyle sweater, drinking canned iced tea, his face a haphazard muddle of raw chicken and gristle. He smiled, though, like there was nothing better in the world than canned iced tea and argyle.

Convincing Collin to come with me into the business center didn’t prove easy, but he agreed one shaky step at a time until finally the warehouse loomed over us that night, its secret and fantastic contents waiting for protection. We established that, given I had discovered the umbrellas in the first place, I would receive the direct profits and that Collin had been taken on simply as a temporary employee and not a primary stakeholder and therefore he should be paid accordingly. That out of the way, we began security enhancements. First we decided to move the umbrellas into a safer location. A basement filled with holiday cards and decorations and tissue paper would do. Once each umbrella had been transported, counted and then recounted, we stacked boxes of stationary at the foot of the basement stairs, then placed a spare door from a nearby office skeleton over the entrance, and topped it all off with some loose shrubbery, nothing fancy but enough to keep the place from drawing attention to itself. We didn’t want any random nomads wandering accidently upon our horde. Next, we waited for the rainy season to approach. I figured the best time for attack would be when other umbrellas sold at much higher rates. While competitors tried to cash in on increased need, we could swoop in and sell at unbeatable prices because it amounted to pure profit for us. Our competitors, mainly John Roebuck and his some fifteen rental umbrellas or Sarah Contwin and her plastic rain hoodies, wouldn’t know what hit them when our cheap and magically stylish umbrellas suddenly flooded the town. With any luck, Dad and I could get ourselves out of default and back on regular payments.

I spent the rest of the summer visiting Dad at the hospital in the morning, cycling out to count my umbrellas, working afternoons at the credit processing mill, occasionally removing Mr. Cormack’s trash, and enjoying the night on my own. Dad’s stay at the hospital shouldn’t have been so long, all his wounds healed in a week, but since he had taken time off work to recuperate and didn’t want to fall any further behind on his payments, he entered into an experimental drug and procedure program, allowing the doctors to test what they remembered of remedies on him, remedies and memories that usually ended up extending his stay on the grounds of this or that side effect or, more often, mistake or lapse of foresight—which in turn prompted him to re-enroll into the testing, on and on until months had passed and the doctors grappled with the fact that maybe they’d never remember. His face like a rotted eggplant, bloated with everything the doctors had incorrectly recalled, Dad swore he had a plan, that his hospital bank accounts amassed funds and interest with every new drug and donated organ, with every spark of medical déjà vu, but he and I both knew I had access to the accounts and not only were they not amassing funds or interest, but they were deep in the red because he’d been paying his bills on hospital credit coins—which could only be purchased in exchange for increased APR on his outstanding college loans. Once, while he slept, I found his stash of bloody tissues in the plastic drawer by his cot, filled with black chunks and mushy pieces of his lungs or throat. So, these are memories, I thought. I never mentioned it, just left, making sure to smile and wave to Mr. Stanley, honorary chair of hospital proceedings.

Nights, I sat in the bus stop fiddling with my half deck of cards and listening to the credit mill’s clanking and buzzing. Soon things would be different, I thought. Lounging with my back against old advertisements for movies I’d never see, I put my feet up on a crate, stared out toward the fog and stars resting over the mountains and the restored steamboat in the river, my pants wet with dew, and imagined myself shouting orders from a desk to my many umbrella employees, all of whom delighted in keeping the world dry. Sometimes Collin joined me. Other times, he didn’t. Sometimes we talked. Other times, we didn’t. Silent or chatting, we didn’t come to the bus stop for conversation, but just to watch things not happen, to not see buses arrive, to not watch people commute, to not hear the news or gossip or facts, but to listen to the dragonflies sleeping on the edge of the stream, to watch restless birds finally settle in dead lime trees.

The first trickle of rain hit my cheeks at the September Bazaar. The Credit Mill sponsored it every year and I’d just been promoted to litter removal, so I had access to everything because people leave trash even, and especially, in the most exclusive of places. I made my way around the rugs covered in half-price memories—records no one could listen to, appliances that couldn’t work, unused tickets to shows that never happened and never would, photos of places that no longer existed, dead batteries—little pieces of the lives we’d planned to live, passed and traded among us until, one by one, we’d eventually all not live the very same life, having held or owned the same trinkets of the past, if only for a brief time, if only to resell it to the next person. The Bazaar didn’t give us anything new really, mostly just a chance, if we couldn’t finish our own lives the way we’d anticipated, to partake in what was left of everyone else’s. Still, a few sold makeshift impersonations of the things we’d once enjoyed or needed: wobbly handmade candles, “designer” curtains sewn from found sheets and shirts, cardboard cribs, and caustic, tub brewed soaps, though no one made any money really, just moved it around from here to there. John Roebuck and Sarah Contwin manned their well-established stalls, business gaining reasonable speed with the thickening clouds, enough at least for them to buy a few things or make a daily payment to Sally May. As it began to pour, I cornered Collin while he manned a special exhibit from the Credit Mill, a collection of photos from the top of a building in a city no one could remember but said they did, and I told him to prepare for opening day, that the great umbrella sale begins tomorrow.

At the close of the Bazaar, I sat and listened to Father Raymark, introduced by Mr. Stanley, giving a speech about our innate greatness, our wondrous lineage, the same one he recited every year under the banner that read, AUTO SHOW: SEPT 16TH!, the only banner we had, tattered and patchy blue. He reminded us that 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve had been expelled from their homeland, not in the same way we had, really, because maybe our homeland had been more expelled from us, poof just like that, but either way we’d been separated from it all the same, and like us, they too had a debt to pay, a debt to God, a debt that over time, generation by generation their bloodline should have paid off in full but never did in their wicked hearts, and their spiritual accounts dwindled and dwindled until nothing was left and the only thing God could do was purge the earth once again in fire and confusion, cutting his losses, and though that debt has bankrupted, Father Raymark said, though we come from incompetent stock of inept Abrahams and negligent Mohammeds, we, the new Adams and Eves, could overcome and be the final lineage that establishes a good line of credit with the Lord our God Amen, who in his grace left but one institution standing, the great vein that leads up to the heavens, the collection agencies whose ministers are strong and righteous, who still believe in us and make our case to the Lord though they needn’t but just out of the goodness of their huge hearts, you see, until one day our children’s children’s children will live debt free in a paradise of flowing commerce and renewed consumerism baptized in a tide of everything we could hope for and more and thank you very much for attending the bazaar, we’ll see you next year. As Mr. Stanley clapped, so did we. I didn’t go in for religion so much, but the basics were there and not so far off base anyway. I owed somebody money for my dad’s social work degree, whoever it was, mortal or God, that much was clear.

Collin and I spent the night loading and carting our umbrellas out of the business district and back to town. The rain had stopped, and out there in the dark you’d catch glimpses of lizards skittering around rocks and stray bricks. The moon cast shadows like thin blankets over the dirt and patches of damp sidewalk. Somewhere, my mother, who’d been claimed by the Sally May company under the rules of eminent domain, was looking at the same moon or maybe a nice picture of it or a wall or a man’s strained face or abdomen I guessed. Collin, whose mum had become akin to a sort of company drinking fountain, an honor according to Mr. Stanley, said it’s best not to think about it too much. He’s right. If you think about anything too long, you lose precious time, time you could be packing umbrellas onto a cart on the back of a bike in the middle of the night under the moon with lizards.

We slept with our product under a tree in the middle of town, half rotted limes under and around us. In the morning, we climbed its branches and hung the umbrellas like enormous black fruit, the dying tree ripened and blooming with our sales tactics. It was sunny and cloudless, but everything still dripped from last night’s rain, a hot steam rising with the sun, and once people awoke, sales were immediate and fantastic. We sold ten umbrellas! And another six the next day. My finances ballooned twice over within a week and I managed to balance dad’s hospital account, telling him to lay low and let his nails grow back without enrolling in any new programs. By the end of September, rain pushing streams up over their banks, I was two months ahead in my loan payments and wearing newish shoes. Both Mr. Stanley and Father Raymark shook my hand and congratulated me when I started a savings account, one of four in the town.

So, obviously, after the town council illegalized umbrellas, I wasn’t very happy. Even if I could have sold them on the sly, no one had a reason to buy if they couldn’t be seen in town with them. Joe Roebuck and Sarah Contwin beamed with energy as they potted around neighborhoods stealing back all of my customers and hawking their mediocre wares—which somehow skirted the classification of umbrellas in a suspicious technicality—while Mr. Stanley gave out a small reward to every person who dropped an umbrella off at the Credit Mill. Collin and I aimed to make the best of it. Though the act made me sad in a way, as if I had failed them somehow, as if I hadn’t protected them like I had sworn or been born to, as if in finding them I had ushered them into disutility faster than nature intended, still we took two garbage bins from the rec hall in the middle of the night, stole off to the business center, gathered up every last umbrella, dragged them back to town through a shower of wet, tired pedals, and, come morning, loped up the hill, busted into the Credit Mill, pushed our way through the workers to Mr. Stanley’s office, requested an audience and dumped our one hundred umbrellas out across the studio floor, demanding our due reward for our triumph of civic duty. We were promptly arrested and charged six months advance payments, double interest. While we were incarcerated, the town council stamped the umbrellas with an official seal, deemed them safe for regular use, and resold them at marked up prices just in time for the late autumn torrents.

Prison isn’t so bad except that you can’t work. There’s food and a place to sleep, good company, but everyone is miserable knowing that those numbers multiply and appreciate with each day in lock up, no matter how well we eat or rest. Collin stopped talking to me and disappeared into a haze of strangers. There was a Sally May sighting in the shower and Father Raymark came to officiate it wearing a pair of dark, somber sunglasses “to cast off the lesser light, to better see the image of our lady,” an image that in fact resembled more a pigeon than a benefactor and really, obviously, just some rust and mildew, dripping soap scum—and besides which Father Raymark smelled of whiskey and gin. He took me aside and told me that something called DNA lived inside me and that whatever schemes I might plan I couldn’t avoid the payment, real and honest, because the final ledger of my accounts was scrawled by God in an immense code that every cell of my body contained. I knew all this already, of course. I’d been born with it, he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, and I would die with it too, but if I wanted to improve the code through righteous will and to pass on a biological ledger a father could be proud of, then the path was clear. Not until my release from the jail and the discovery of my father’s death, an assisted suicide, and his body’s subsequent donation to the hospital, slated as compensation for another account he’d kept hidden from me, an account that he’d tried to fill with the money from multiple experiments and tests and drugs but that he’d only emptied and depleted deeper and deeper until the numbers no longer made any sense at all but instead seemed to infect you with their very existence, and the doctors deemed it best that he be in the care of scientists because probably his body, with its so bankrupt a genetic code, could very well contaminate the soil and present a terrible risk to all of us, and all went as planned until Mr. Stanley intervened and confiscated the body, claiming my father as a saint and a martyr, a man who did not commit suicide but died destroying his body to protect and improve the accounts of his bloodline and that, though he may have failed in the end and pitifully so, still he was a hero because perhaps his final act was to protect his credit line from himself, a degenerate and incompetent man, which in turn made him, finally, a hero and one who deserved nothing better than a proper burial outside the Credit Mill and wouldn’t his son honor his noble father with a eulogy?, and everyone smiled and everyone clapped and patted me on the back with tears in their eyes—only then did I realize the truth in Father Raymark’s words, that the path was very clear, and so I filed for a bare-knuckle boxing match with Clark Stanley the following day.

I took out Mr. Cormack’s trash that evening, though he had very little of it.

In the early afternoon, a crowd gathered in the back lot of the post office, everyone excited to see a young man bleed. As they breathed deeply, huddled and mashed together, placing bets and keeping a circle open for the fight to occur, Mr. Stanley casually played checkers with himself atop a sideways crate. And while they all enjoyed the hours off from work, complimentary whenever a boxing match is scheduled, though not a respite from compounding interest, I smashed through a window in every home, took off one by one with their umbrellas, made my final stop at the Credit Mill and reclaimed my shivering flock, then shepherded them all along with me into the business center, safe under the cover of a sandstorm and headed for nowhere in particular. The common notion around town had been that where we lived existed as an unlikely haven in a desert of danger, uncertainty, grief, and death. By venturing boldly into the business center, without the intention of returning but instead of seeking out what lay beyond, those I’d left behind surely considered me as good as dead, another suicide, just like my father’s, though far more cowardly and much less laudable. No burials for me, no sainthood or martyrdom, not even a donation to science.

After a nominal stretch of dry, aggressive earth, the landscape became surprisingly docile, soft and green. In more remote places, airplanes, or pieces of them, scattered open areas. Lengths of road sometimes emerged from the dirt like lights in fog, receding again into the ground or the air or nothing, like the weather itself. For some time, I hoped to look back to find Collin enlarging like a speck of pepper into the shape of a man, but the only thing behind me was a waving haze obscuring the thin line between the sky and the earth. I spent a long time walking an old highway, useless radio and cell phone towers revealed on the periphery, lonely stalks of celery in an empty bed of concrete lettuce. Eventually, outposts became more frequent, usually lone homes on fields of foundations where a family or hermit or runaway would trade at least something for an umbrella, sometimes food or water, other times can openers and pans or shoes. After a time, I ran out of umbrellas, fulfilling my debt to their utility, but leaving me stupidly lonely. I didn’t miss people anymore, but things.

Weeks later, an empty but otherwise intact town appeared over a bridge early in the morning. Lime and mango trees grew in the yards, young and virile, pulsating with juice. I strode about its clean streets under unlighted streetlamps and perused the homes as if picking produce in a grocery aisle. I plucked two for good measure and struck up a routine of living on and off in both, one small and unassuming, the other larger and ornate, gaudy paintings hanging crooked on the walls. Other people came, too, slowly and often in the night. I’d wake up and there’d be more neighbors, families tending lawns and repairing shutters as if they’d always been there, like it was just spring cleaning after a long winter. Eventually, I had to relegate myself to just one home, the smaller of the two, making way for three families willing to share the gaudy paintings and endless rooms.

I always half expected Mr. Stanley to come find me, to send his agents and salesmen in search of me, valuable capital to be retaken. I imagined that I’d peer out my blinds to see suited men in sunglasses, or fat putty-faced men in stubby ties and brown shoes finally cornering me, but Mr. Stanley didn’t need to send anyone. He came in the form of development and change and culture and commerce, in roads and infrastructure, transport and communication, unions and schools and celebrations. He never reached out, the world just got smaller, his hands waiting patiently for their mass to attract me. As usual, Eden inflated, exile waned, and my old accounts arrived by special post delivery in the weekend mail, only a few months after I’d started receiving it at all. I sat with the envelope on a rock outside my home, and I didn’t even open it or the next one or the next one or any one, just let the interest rise like yeast in the oven, let the numbers assemble like blood cells from marrow—because what else is a balanced account but death? This way, I could live forever, I thought, in default—because debt doesn’t die, it mails itself around our bodies and roads, getting bigger and bigger. My father’s shrunken frame before his death—and those enormous and horrifying numbers practically pulsing off the ledger, daunting and awing, there was something in all that, a connection at least, and I think much more. So I let them grow, my numbers, let them increase and scatter and pepper banks and offices and papers, because maybe, like a tree giving its final fruit, paying it off is the real exile.

 

 

Help us decrease medical debt and give everyone access to quality healthcare and education.

Consider donating to RIP Medical Debt, the Debt Collective, or Planned Parenthood

 

 

Dolan Morgan lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He is the author of two books: That’s When the Knives Come Down (Aforementioned Productions, 2014) and INSIGNIFICANA (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). His work can be found in The Believer, at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, on Selected Shorts, and in the trash.  

 

(Front page image by Robin E. Mørk, and originally appeared in That’s When the Knives Come Down)



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