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So the girl was, for all she knew, an orphan.

She wants to be sure I tell you this: she never liked cinders. You should have known, after all. Cinders stain promiscuously, announcing themselves to all they touch and never letting you forget. Cinders are the embodiment of color.

Ashes are a different story. Ashes embody nothing; they have a pallid ephemerality that cinders could never dream of. She never thought of them as residue, as lacking something they once had or could have. She loved the ashes. Her sisters called them cinders, but this was a vile misrepresentation. They knew how it upset her.

She hid the book there, in the ashes, tucked behind the fireplace in the tiny box it had come in. She got this from her mother*. When the rest of her family went to a concert or a dinner, she would light a candle, let the ashes fall away from the box, and read again her mother's only words to her, placed after a self-portrait of the most shimmeringly magnetic woman the girl had ever seen:

I tell you these things because I love you.

First: If you tell your wish, it won't come true.

Second: Make yourself small. Every morning, imagine yourself shrinking, receding deep into your own body. Think of the smallest box you have seen, and put yourself there. You will be smaller--poof!--in no time flat.

She would do this as she read, even though it wasn't morning. She was very good.

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