We stand on the pier together, Karl and I, having carried these four cartons filled with the crematorium ashes of our parents around for years, once lined them up on the shelf in the garage, then shunted them to the basement in a banker’s box, found a hundred reasons why we couldn’t dispose of them yet, finally the need to be done with them outweighs our refusal to face facts. So on this trip, a decade after our first mourning, we bring these receptacles to an appropriate dumping ground and are determined that if we accomplish nothing else we will not carry these cartons back home. We look down into the murky water and see vague forms of fish swimming, fat muddy mullets circling the dock, we peer around all guilty, we’re pretty sure we are not allowed to throw crematorium ashes into the bay but are determined to do it anyway, we just don’t want to get caught. We open the cartons, they are shaped like giant Chinese restaurant takeout boxes, each full to the brim and five pounds worth, and look inside, trying not to breathe in case we mistakenly inhale a fragment. I am immediately repelled by the lumpiness of the contents, I thought the ashes would be sifted and clean but instead there are chunks of matter that make me look to one side and think about anything except this unpleasant reality.
I eye Karl, he’s not smiling either, he looks a little pale under his tan, now we really understand why we shuffled these boxes upstairs and downstairs and outside for years, dealing with them is not much fun at all, and we are having difficulty remembering anything nice about our parents when faced with these clotted packages of dust. Our plan was to say a few words, spiritual or something, toss the ashes into the air in memory of the folks, a gesture to the memorials we never organized. We are not funeral kind of people and my parents hated funerals too. For years we pretend that everyone is immortal.
I thought you got a handful of ashes when someone died, not that they actually shoveled up great masses and clumps of burnt bone, enough potash to fertilize your peas. I am horrified really, you can’t possibly scatter all this material, you have to just turn the cartons upside down using both hands and shake them and let the contents plummet into the water. We do that, one carton at a time, wanting to go faster but noticing that the ashes unfortunately do not sink immediately but float for a time on the surface, dusty and oily all at once, attracting the attention of the mullets.
For a few minutes we watch the water, looking down between the boards of the dock as the waves gradually break up the scutwork of ashes, as the sun shines down on our bare heads and bare arms and bare legs and bare feet, as the cormorants and pelicans dive in the distance, as the mullet splash, and then we gather up the empty cartons, weightless as air.