A bleak and twisted short story
|She stood beside the river, thin grey hair blowing in the light breeze, icy blue eyes watching the water as it gurgled and frolicked over its pebble bed. Her skin, so thin and sallow, clung to her bones, like papier-mâché on a frame. Her long black dress, the thick woollen black shawl, her tiny black shoes. Black as night and twice as dead. Her breath, shallow and slow; little puffs of vapour, like prayer-wraiths, disappearing in the morning sun.
He stood beside her, looking on. Comfort he couldn’t give, but knew she would take it anyway. His strength was his silence, knowing that to speak would break the spell. His face, full of deep crags, weathered by wind and sea, stared sternly at the far bank. Eyebrows, great salt and pepper tufts that reached down as if grass from a rock. Grey eyes to match, deep and compassionate. Dark hair streaked with white, sombre clothes, his best brown shoes. A sentinel to usher in the morning.
“I am ready,” he said at last, his deep voice gently informing her.
She nodded, a barely perceptible movement, but it was enough. She knew he’d seen. Her eye caught a deer treading lightly among the trees, wondering whether it was safe to sip from the stream. An unheard sound made the creature whip it’s head around and it leapt into nothingness, the darkness of the forest swallowing it whole.
She felt it then. It was time. She reverently removed the top from the glazed earthen jar, black as lacquer, unadorned. She knelt, her husband unmoving, and placed the lid on the ground amongst the gravel.
“Michael, my son, my love. Your life was not an easy one, but we always tried to do right by you.” A lonely tear flicked off her lashes. “Rest a little easier now.”
“Rest easier,” her husband agreed.
With care, she tilted the jar in both hands, sifting the ashes onto the surface of the water where it was quickly carried away. She took her time, not wanting to rush, easing the moment into the future. A small cloud of dust puffed from its gaping maw, escaping into the wind. A skylark trilled its song from above, a hymn to greet a soul, bright and solemn simultaneously.
At last she was done, and trying not to make it look indecorous, gave the jar a little shake, ensuring it was empty. She placed the urn beside her and returned the lid to its accustomed place, then offered a silent, personal prayer to her son.
She stood then, and held her husband’s hand in her left, cradling the jar in the crook of her right arm. He gave her hand a little squeeze, and she gave a squeeze of her own.
“Did that work for you?” he asked.
“Yes. And you?”
“Yes. Do we go on?”
“One down, five to go,” he said, referring to the bullies who’d tormented their son to death.