He says he wants to know what I want done with my ashes knowing I want to be cremated.
I tell him I need to think about that for a while, knowing that “while” could be an ever shortening lifespan, but I dare not tell him that, it simply wouldn’t be acceptable he would respond, setting off another endless discussion.
I don’t say that time, in this rare instance, is on my side for truth be told I don’t care what he does with my ashes, I am gone and that’s that , bit a nice spot in the center of the mantle in the formal living room would be nice.
I would like to go back to the days when, after a fire reduced a commericial building to charred rubble, the onlookers and the gawkers wondered if it was an angry customer or employee, or sloppiness or poor maintenance.
Now, we watch as the fire marshals comb through the ashes and the rubble, looking not only for the source of the flames but also the accelerant, always wondering as we do just how the business was doing and if not well, did the owner at least pay up on his fire insurance.
He said he did not want a funeral, certainly did not want to be buried. It would be a waste of wood and metal, and its only purpose would be to enrich the mortician and it is not like he will run out of customers any time in the near future. Not, at least, until he becomes a customer and he doesn’t want to consider that. No, he said, “cremate me and put my ashes in an oversized box for I want a copy of Dante’s Inferno cremated with me. I won’t make Moses’ mistake with the desert. I’ll take a roadmap on my journey.”
I stooped and spoke to a stone, asking the question. I was here before you arrived and I will be her long after you leave. I held the sand in my hand warm from the sun, asking the question. I came after your arrived and I will leave long before you are gone. I held the winter wind on the tip of a finger, asking the question. I am not here now and I have never been here. I touched the waters to my lips, asking the question. I was above you when you came and I will be below you when you go. I saw the flames dance before me, asking the question. You were ashes once and you shall be ashes again. I stood mired in the clay clinging to my legs, asking the question. It is of me you were formed and it is to me you will return. I sat at the foot of God blinding light, asking the question. You cried to me at birth and you will cry to me at death.
When it’s time, i suppose I’d like to go like my dog and cat, slipping away as they were gently stroked. It could be like that, there’s a chance but I can’t count on it, no one can. I never did try skydiving, too late, now and so a failed or fouled chute won’t be my fate and the closest I came to auto racing was a weekend at Bondurant and my skill limited my career to local road rallying in college, and few die in under-powered Opels. Maybe I’ll know my end is near, and maybe not but it won’t be in a blaze of glory and my ashes will sit on some mantle because only those of the famous, like Richie Havens, get spread from the plane over Woodstock. But, then again, none of that will be my problem, so screw it.
He captured the stray beams of light in a small amber bottle and tucked it into a dark corner of a shelf in his basement. He canned a small bit of the sky, sealed it carefully, placing it in his pantry, for posterity. He stored his collection of dawns in and old cedar chest in the attic amid moth-eaten blankets. He had a bookshelf of genomes, arranged alphabetically next to Mason jars filled with the ashes of victims of each of the genocides of the last five centuries. It was the Greek amphora perched on the mantle that he most prized, waiting for the day when he could look within it and bid good morning to his soul.
A skeletal tree stands too many winters bones grown brittle, crackling ashen gun-metal gray, Tokyo Bay at evening’s onset a bird perches, staring at a last leaf clinging knowing frozen earth awaits. It is winter, sap pools in roots seeking earth’s dying warmth. We warm our hands by the fire, as bones of other trees fall to the grate in ashes.