No one in the house was talking. Each of us was in our own world, ignoring the others. Lost in our thoughts.
It has been a long, emotional day. Today, I laid my mother to rest. She had died suddenly nearly three months ago, alone at home. It was winter then and the river was frozen. As was her request, she was cremated and her remains placed in a mahogany box on the mantel. With spring finally here, my father, sister Gina and I choose today to fulfill her final wish.
The house was on a finger of land jutting out into the wide river. It was a low bungalow on the shore, a deck ringing the back half and offering an unobstructed view up and down the river. My parents bought the house just before I left home, and only a few years before their divorce. That was nearly 18 years ago.
I had flown in from the other coast last night and would stay just this weekend.
The ceremony this afternoon was just Gina, Dad and myself. Gina carefully carried the box to the shore, Dad and me in tow. The urn reminded me of a jewelry box with a small lock keeping the lid closed and two small hinges on the back.
We said a few words – most of what we had to say had been said at the funeral. After a pause to reflect, Gina unlocked the box with a key from her pocket. A gust of wind blew her hair across her face. Gina held the urn in front of her, at arms length. She looked at Dad, who nodded, and then back to the box. She lifted the cover gingerly with her thumbs. The breeze caught the ash and it looked like smoke. Tears streamed down her face as she let go with her right hand and let the dust pour out slowly into the gentle waves lapping at the shoreline.
The summer sun sparkled on the surface. Light shadows played along the rocks. The ash disappeared instantly into the waters. The river continued along.
The rest of the day we kept to ourselves. Dad wandered around the house, which was both familiar and foreign to him after all these years. I needed to get some air and went out onto the deck at the back of the house.
Gina was already there, curled up on an Adirondack chair, staring out into space. The only acknowledgement when I walked onto deck was a brief catching of eyes. A cigarette was in her left hand. A box of tissue was on the patio table to her right.
I walked down the steps off the deck and towards the waters edge where we had been earlier. The evening was warm and a soft breeze blew.
The seagulls were returning up the river. Their plaintive calls mixed with chirps from frogs in the grass and weeds along the shore. Waves lapped the rocks and weeds at the shore.
The sun was setting. The sky was orange and red and purple like a dying campfire. The big wide river was dark without the high afternoon sunlight. It was losing the greens and blues and was fading towards black. It flowed inexorably towards the sea. The setting sun speckled the tips of the waves.
I stopped right at the edge. What was I supposed to feel now? This is what mom wanted. But how am I supposed to feel about this river now? She wanted to be here forever. But the river never stops. The river now is not the same river that it was this afternoon. Does this mean her spirit is commingled with the water?
I bent down and put my hand in the water. It was very cold. I cupped my hands together and lifted the water. It poured from my hands and was lost back into the river.
It was getting darker now. The gulls were gone now and only frog chorus was there to accompany the sound of the waves washing onto the shore.
Reaching in further, I grabbed a small smooth rock from the bottom. It was slightly slippery in my hand. I stared at it for a moment, then stood, put the rock in my pocket and slowly walked back to the deck. The river moved behind me as if I had never been there.
Copyright 2006 Richard Muise