by Salena Casha
I tried to keep Husband with me for two months, avoided his last wishes like the plague. But she was having none of it. I loosened one of my arms from my legs and traced the forest floor with damp fingertips. The muggy air pressed down on me, made it hard for me to breath. I wiped my cheeks with the cuff of my shirt. The fabric still smelled like him, cologne and fresh wood.
“C—.” A pause. “We’ve got to start. It’ll be dark soon.”
She said it quietly, quickly, under her breath. But I heard her all the same. She wanted to run off with her Bingo buddies at the nursing home, spike her coffee with Baileys, laugh at what I’d shared with her son and say it was nothing compared to mother’s love.
“I know. You’ll be back by four,” I said. More likely 4:30 with all the traffic downtown. And I drove like the eighty-year-old she was.
“It’s what he wanted,” she replied.
I wasn’t sure whether she meant that Husband would have not wanted her to be late for her date or that he wanted us to come out here together and do this.
“Yes. For him,” I repeated aloud.
Mother-in-Law raised her eyebrows, silver dashes rising into silver coif. I ignored her and stared instead at the box that sat next to me. Its rough corners had been sanded down by carpenter hands. Husband’s carpenter hands. It must have been strange for him to craft his own coffin, to see where his ashes would be kept. Maybe he hadn’t thought about it. Husband didn’t think out of context, out of the present. In fact, it had just been a box. But after Husband’s death, it became an urn. The wind ripped through my shirt, pulled at my hair, and I wrapped his plaid around my body. Beyond the trees I could feel the void in air, the drop-offs of cliffs and ledges. I breathed in. Felt the sheer power of nothingness that he wanted me to hurl him from.
My legs moved as I walked forward, felt the path steepen. Mother-in-Law puffed behind me, overweight and out of breath. I reached the top first. And for those few moments, it was mine again. I bent down, touching the ground beneath me. It was sacred, it had been ours.
We used to hike all the time. One day, when we had been standing here, he grabbed my hand, his rough and calloused skin grounding me and said, "I love you."
I felt his arm around my waist, his breath in my hair. The way he let me set the pace on our treks, pretended it was too quick so I would turn around and yell for him to keep up so he could see the way sweat made flyaways stick to my forehead. He’d told me that once. I remembered the feel of the hard ground beneath my naked back, the air a mixture of pine trees and impassioned sweat. And I couldn’t remember what day it was.
We had been married for years. Twenty to be exact. He had never touched a cigarette. Bad things weren’t supposed to happen to people like that. But it was always the way things worked out. Mother-in-Law went through a pack a day but she was still here, somewhere behind me on a path she had never charted. This was not her place.
She was not there when we received the phone call that shattered all that time.
"Hello, Hanover residence." I remembered saying. The phone slipped in and out of my grasp. I must have been washing dishes and forgot to rinse the suds. The memory was fuzzy, like the foam that coated my skin.
"Hello. This is Doctor Prands. I'd like to talk to Mr. Hanover. Is he there?"
"No, I'm afraid not. But this is his wife. Can I take a message?"
A pause. "Just let Mr. Hanover know we called."
A brain tumor. When he told me, it became contagious, his words blacking out my ability to form memories. In the quick months that followed, I remembered white walls. I recalled the beeping of a heart rate monitor a. I remembered the rhythm of his breathing until one day there were no sounds except the clanking radiator and static from the TV.
I pressed the box to my chest.
Let me go into the air that made me fall in love with you, Husband had said.
“Let him go, C—,” Mother-in-Law said behind me. She had no right to say my name.
My eyes burned; my gut ached. I opened the box, the wind tripping particles into air.
“I can’t,” I wanted to say. But pieces of him fled from me. Gnarled knuckles reached inside and took a handful of Husband. Threw him to the wind.
“You have to let go,” she said.
I didn’t have to do anything. But all I could think of was how he’d made the box, how he probably hated being in something he’d manufactured for other purposes. It was unfair to keep him there.
I clutched at the fine grains. They fell from me in sheets.
I saw her cross herself, mumble a prayer, fill her eyes with tears. And I stared at the empty box. I’d place myself in it one day. We stood there, Wife, Husband, Mother, waiting for one to leave so the others could follow. It would be impolite to do otherwise. So we scuffed at dirt, fidgeted, until he completely disappeared, until I couldn’t see any more of his gray fog.
“Do you think we can start to walk back?” She said.
“You won’t be late,” I replied.
“I wasn’t thinking about that.”
“Of course you weren’t,” I said. Standing there on the mountaintop, I wanted to throw myself after him. Wait for me, Husband, I whispered. I followed Mother-In-Law back down her path.
Salena Casha's work has previously appeared in With Painted Words as well as The Medulla Review, Foundling Review, Ethereal Tales, Halfway Down the Stairs and others.
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