Ashes to Air (April 29, 2018)

This was his rock. He said it suited him best because it gave him more room to stretch out his legs, and not because it was one of the few chances she could ever feel what it was like to be taller than him. Both of those were true, but she believed he also chose that spot so he could rest his head against her thigh as she sat on the higher rock beside it. She tried it now, imagining the sensation of flesh against her face, the pulse that ran beneath it, the subtle tensing and relaxing, depending on what, if anything, they were talking about. She imagined she would be able to, hoping to find some other new connection to what was no longer there, but all she knew was the scraping pain of the rock on her cheek, not even being tall enough to reach the spot where he would have been, making contact with her.

The perspective was different for her down here, only if it were a matter of a few feet. The horizon was closer somehow, and all the times she felt like she was looking out to a greater expanse than she would ever know now was replaced by the new reality of a smaller world, one that continued to close in on her. There was less ocean and more sky, and more than ever she wanted to be part of one of them. It didn’t matter which one. Either, she believed, was a better option than the world she was part of now.

She had run out of time to tell lies to herself, so today she had finally come down. It had been her way over the last several weeks, telling herself and anyone who she thought wanted to listen that the winds were still going to be too strong, and with them too much a chance that a gust could blow out of nowhere. Nobody wanted to hear it, and those few that listened did so because they knew she needed to tell it. Some had talked amongst themselves, wondering if there was a way to tell her “Enough,” but nobody could agree as to when that would be, because nobody wanted to admit they knew what she was going through. Better to let her do her thing in her own way and time. That time was finally now.

The hammock had gone up easier than she had expected, once again because her enemy was no longer around. She used to laugh at him, watching him try to harness it, one tree at a time, while it caught full sail and blew around like an erstwhile kite. Some days, it seemed like it might have power enough to take the first tree with it, but he still insisted on setting it up. When he finally anchored it to the second tree, it was no less bellicose in its flapping, but it was tamed enough for them to enjoy.

She had let it sit, in the bag with everything else, where he had left it that day, one of just many things that had to be cataloged. There were things to keep and things to get rid of, things to go through and things to ignore, none so big as the battered backpack that had sat in the corner of their bedroom. The lie about that (and there were lies for everything, there had to be, because there was no way she could face the truth, not yet) was that she knew everything that was in there, and none of it was really that important. No paperwork to be handed over to the authorities, whoever they may be for such a situation, and no family heirlooms that somebody would want to keep. In layman’s terms, the damn bag was just full of shit, meaningless shit that had the one purpose of joining them at the beach.

The most that would ever be done with any of it was to take out the towels and hang them to dry, but that hadn’t been necessary after the last time they used it. The weather never seemed hot enough that day, the water still cold enough to not be tempting, a luxury they could have that friends and family back home could not. So the bag had sat, untouched in the corner, a silent witness to the last time they came home, the last time they slept together, the last time she left him in the shower, the last time she had kissed him goodbye, told him she loved him, and left for work.

Add this to the list of things she believed would be true: the hammock would be full of his presence, not to be touched or seen but smelled. There was no reason this would be true. He had searched for a good hammock, one designed to be beaten up a bit by constantly being used outside, and that meant spending more money than necessary, but resulted in a fabric that breathed freely, cleaned easily, and had material designed specifically not to smell like every trip it had been used for. Stretched between the trees, she regarded it, and, still wanting to believe he would be in there, she didn’t get in it, not right away. Instead, she removed the one new item from the bag, made her way across the protruding stones that bit into her feet, and sat out on their rocks, waiting for the wind to not be there.

The wind never was there, and she would have sat forever, countless tides coming and going until she would simply become part of the rocks, but for the voices that began to gather around her. If ever there was a time she could count on him being cross, it was then. There were moments, like any normal human would have, that would anger him, piss him off, make him a jerk, but now, then, that one moment every day, she knew it to come like clockwork.

Like clockwork, indeed, because he would say it was nature’s way of telling them they’d been at the beach long enough. Human nature, she would remind him. Nature was what they had come there for. The nature of the ocean and the beach, the sky and the clouds, even the tree limbs that danced above their eyes when they snuggled inside the hammock, the sides all but cocooning them in their own world. It was the humans that changed things then, it was the humans that changed things now.

The voices told her now it was time to go.

What little nerve she could find she called on and she stood, as far out as she could, still waiting to be sure, finally surrendering. The bag opened freely, and the ashes fell orderly, spilling out into the ocean, the parade of his life passing before her eyes. Almost over, nature disagreed, and an errant gust caught what was left and took him from the ocean, towards the beach and towards her.

‘Doesn’t it always,’ she thought, followed ‘Does it always?’ She thought of all the videos she had seen, the ones he had shared with her, where such ceremonies had gone seriously, hysterically wrong. Some were flawed from the start, the wind always being there and people not understanding basic weather patterns. Others were like her experience, perfect until the end, which gave her pause and made her root her feet a little stronger, because there were those, too, when it wasn’t the wind that didn’t cooperate, but the own person’s sense of balance. Others would laugh at that, if it were to happen to her and be filmed, but not her. She could only find a sense of laughter when she allowed herself to believe something else, that this was his last attempt to make her laugh.

It was what she loved about him, more than any other aspect about him, so much so that early in the relationship she thanked him for it. For what, he asked, and she explained that she had never been a person to laugh every day, but with him, she did. She told him that even before she told him she loved him. She had her one final laugh, but it was quickly extinguished, because she knew that there was nothing more he would ever do. Any laughs that came in the future would be rooted in the past, reminders of what he had done. There was no more present.

She walked back across the stones, head down, studiously avoiding the people around her. Back at the hammock, the wind was now there, and the hammock snapped at her, inviting her to it. It was all over, and she knew she had to stop believing in everything she had been telling herself.

Alone, she felt like she hardly made a dent in the tension. It seemed to swing no closer to the ground than it had been, her weight offering only a small anchor against the wind. The fabric now embraced her completely, and the tree limbs above her, and the sky above them, was snatched from her sight. Now she would know, and she would know she had been wrong all along. There was nothing of him in there that she had not brought with her. She didn’t even make the desperate gesture of pressing her face to the fabric and inhaling deeply, because she knew smelling the dry chemical compound of the synthetics she was entombed in would do nothing for her. She did not even waste her time trying to believe that when she set the hammock up again, she would smell the tears she was now leaving behind.

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