Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ian's Dad's Ashes


The challenge was this. I’d written the name Circe on a scrap of paper, wanting to use it in the story ever since I saw a commercial for the movie “Hanna” (my brain went on a long digression of trying to guess how the lead actress’s name is pronounced). And one of my karate buddies mentioned in passing something about carrying his dad around in a box, so someone else said “you should write a novel about that.” Well, there wasn’t really a novel in the story. But whatever.


Circe couldn't have been her real name. Probably the staff at the grocery store made their own name tags. She showed up around dusk.

He hadn't told her he was going to do it tonight. He didn't remember telling anyone else either.

She came to his home; he didn't really know she'd known where it was. She was all gothed up, dark nail polish and lipstick, a black wig, and a long black shift that hid her figure.

"Where are they?" she asked she pushed her way in.

He didn't know what she was talking about.

But it didn't matter, because she honed in on the box on the coffee table, like a vulture on roadkill. There was no way she could have seen it from the doorway. She slid down onto the floor beside it. "Can I look inside?"

"No," Ian said.

"I thought they gave you like an urn or something," Circe said. She might have been flirting with him, the tone she used.

"Only if you're keeping the ashes," said Ian. "You have to pay for it."

"Don't you want something to remember him by?" He couldn't see what her right hand was doing.

"I have plenty of memories," Ian said.

"You won't even have a plaque?" said Circe.

"It's not what he wanted," said Ian.

"He's dead," said Circe. "It's not about what he wants anymore."

"I know that," said Ian. His brothers hadn't wanted the ashes either, and honestly his family couldn't wait for him to be rid of them.

"I'll keep them for you, if you want," said Circe.

That seemed like a really bad idea. In fact, now he thought about it, her fondling the box seemed not so good either. He could imagine her trying to slip her hand inside, feel around for lumpy bits (finger bones? Gold fillings?) and slip them into her pocket.

"We should go." He took a firm hold on the box as she passed. The tape on the end seemed loose, as if it had been pulled open and then closed again.

"I'm going out to deal with Dad," he shouted downstairs, where his kids played video games, and upstairs, where his wife might be reading or doing her nails.

There were no sidewalks out here in the suburbs. They walked on the side of the street that didn’t have streetlights.

"Tell me about your dad," said Circe.

"You met him," said Ian. The box wasn't heavy, but it was awkward to carry. He shifted it to his other arm, his other hip.

"I checked out his groceries," said Circe. "It's not a time for meaningful conversations."

The subdivision ended in a ravine. The paved paths down were not maintained in winter, or at nighttime either.

"If he knew you were down here with me this late at night, what would he have said?" Circe asked. "Do it in his voice, as if he's saying it from the box."

That seemed weird, but Ian played along. "Don't stay out too late. Make sure you're properly equipped. Remember to keep your mobile phone on."

"Your dad was old," Circe agreed.

"He was senile," said Ian. "He'd still be alive, if we'd put him in a home." It was a grisly way to die, falling, breaking his hip and bleeding out for two days. The cantankerous old bastard had refused to carry a cell phone, or have meals on wheels or an alarm bracelet.

"What are we going to do with him now?" At the bottom of the ravine, another path ran along the waterway. Trees loomed over the path blacker than the sky.

"Strew his ashes in the river, I think," Ian said.

A dog walker walked by.

"Did he like the river?" Circe asked.

"Did he like anything?" Ian answered.

"Chunky peanut butter and 12-grain bread," said Circe. "Bananas and many flavours of canned soup."

The path ran close to the river's edge here. A breeze rustled willow branches over the surface of the water.

"Now we're here, I feel like I should have prepared a speech or something."

"I could say a few words," Circe said.

"I'd prefer that you didn't," said Ian.

She spoke anyway, and not in English.

He should have stopped right then, but having the ashes around the house was giving everyone the willies.

He pulled a plastic-wrapped pouch out of the box and fumbled around. Finally he got his thumbnail in a pinprick and ripped it open. At least he hadn't had to resort to his teeth.

Her voice rose. She raised her arms to salute the new moon.

He dumped the ashes out. There was barely enough light to see them hit the surface. It would have been better to have chosen a more neutral day in the lunar cycle.

The ashes didn't sink.

Behind Ian, Circe laughed.

The ashes swirled around an eddy in the current. Then, as a whole, the grayish mass lifted like the opposite of a collapsing bridge, one end first, out of the water. The vague form of a body was there. One shoulder clung to the head as if the body parts had melded in the crematorium.

"Reconstitutes itself, just add water." Circe probably didn't hear him say it.

"Doctor Watson, I command you!" Circe moved forward, to the edge of the water, leaned over the water, stretched her arm out to the -- what was it, a ghost?

She didn't overbalance. Ian's father's ashes pushed her. With a thunk, not a splash,

Circe was in the water. As she fell, she hit the thing that was Ian's father. It disintegrated.

Her heavy boots must have dragged her down. If Ian had dived after her, he couldn't see where she was. The current was fast. He heard her struggle for a moment, and then she was gone.

Ian walked back up the path, through the subdivision, wondering if any of his neighbours had seen them walk this way earlier.

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