She’d seen movies where someone accidentally knocked over the ceramic urn containing a loved one’s ashes, scattering them as the urn broke into pieces, so although she’d poured her husband’s ashes into the porcelain vase they’d bought in Limoges on their honeymoon, when they drove all around France, she wrapped the vase in a blanket and put it far back in the closet—his side of the closet, which she hadn’t touched since. She hadn’t touched it before, either, so all his clothes were still hanging there. Sometimes she imagined opening the sliding door and pressing her face into his jackets, his shirts, and weeping, something else she’d seen in movies. But she would feel overwrought, so she kept his side of the closet closed.
Her sons said, again, that they should pour the ashes into the river as their father had requested. Her sons were grown men, busy with their lives, so although they wanted to honor their father’s last wishes, they didn’t press her. The older son thought it was macabre, the word he used, to keep the ashes wrapped in a blanket at the back of the closet. No doubt they both said to each other that it was better to have the ashes at the back of the closet than to have her hurling the vase across the living room some night when she’d had too much to drink.
Why couldn’t she pour the ashes into the river herself? She didn’t need her sons to be there. They would be angry if they found out she’d gone and done it without them, but she wouldn’t say a word, and maybe they wouldn’t realize the vase was empty until she herself was dead. She would leave the vase on the mantle and wait for her sons to notice it there. Chances were neither one of them would ever look inside it. Both would assume the ashes were still there and would press her, again, about the river. She planned what to say: Some people just don’t like the idea of the dead traveling away from them like that.
She herself did like the idea. She’d liked it all along, but she’d waited a year, for reasons she couldn’t quite articulate but knew had to do with the comfort she took in observing ritual. So on the first anniversary of her husband’s death, she went to the river late at night—a moonlit, warm August night. Dark fields rolled up from either side of the river like alternative skies, lit by lightning bugs instead of stars. It dizzied her, staring into the fields and then back into the river.
The ashes rose like a ghost, so much like a ghost that she heard herself laugh. A laugh more like a bark, and by then, the ashes had sunk into the water.
When she got home, she put the empty vase on the mantle and went upstairs. She took all his clothes from the closet and carried them out onto the lawn, where she laid them out in a stack high as a coffin. Let everyone think she’d gone mad. In the morning, someone would call her older son, who lived closer to her, and he would come running. She would look him in the eye and say, slowly, looking away from him to the vase on the mantle, that he and his brother had been badgering her to take care of the closet for a year. Hadn’t they? Then she would smile, daring him to contradict her the way his father always had.
Lynne Knight has published five full-length poetry collections and four chapbooks, along with I Know (Je sais), a translation, with the author Ito Naga, of his Je sais. Her sixth collection, The Language of Forgetting, will appear from Sixteen Rivers Press in 2018. Her awards include publication in Best American Poetry, a Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a RATTLE Poetry Prize.
Featured image: Photo by Melina Piccolo.