An excerpt from my failed NaNoWriMo piece that I am looking forward to continuing when I get a moment of pause.
He asked her to spread his ashes here. It was a beach that she had never been to in Florida, a state she had never been to. It felt so unfair to her that the place her husband wished to spend eternity was a place she had no connection to. But here she was. There was no way that she could have denied her husband this request, though. At his bedside in the hospital, he had asked her tentatively that if he died that his ashes be spread here.
So, on this beach in Florida, Alice Duran stood. The waves were lapping at her toes. It was seven in the morning and the sun was rising. She had driven twelve hours to be here. She felt greasy and like she hadn’t washed her hands in days, like they were caked with mud.
More than anything, she wanted to take a shower.
Alice was holding a coffee can of her husband’s ashes, which felt like a callous attempt at normalcy on the part of her brother-in-law, Miles. He had handed it to her as she waited by her car outside a rest stop thirty miles outside Cincinnati.
“Careful. It doesn’t close all the way,” he had swallowed, wiping his nose with his sleeve. His eyes were red and he sounded like he needed to blow his nose.
Alice had allowed Miles to keep the ashes for a day before she took it down to Florida. She wanted to be alone when she did it. Her husband asked that of her as well, to the chagrin of his parents and younger brother.
Miles and Alice had always gotten along fine, but their relationship was nothing special. Alice would laugh sometimes with her husband that Miles barely had an impact on her life. They didn’t speak more than a few minutes at family functions and had only a couple pictures together. After her husband’s death, however, Alice and Miles had forged a temporary camaraderie.
Once Miles had handed the can over, though, it marked the end of this phase of their relationship. It was the end of the mutual sadness, the end of the nights spent talking over empty bottles of wine, the end of this, whatever this was. Alice gave him a hug with her free arm and kissed his cheek. “Give me a call, okay? When you get there,” Miles had mumbled into her ear.
“Yes, of course,” Alice replied.
“Drive slow, okay? Please, just be safe.”
Safety and taking care take on different meaning once you lose someone. They aren’t just well wishes or just polite terms. They become pre-emptive blessings.
Alice said her goodbye quickly. She didn’t want to cry anymore than she had and Miles wasn’t helping any. Then, she was off. She drove and didn’t stop. She pulled off to get gas, pee, eat, and twice to cry. Alice hadn’t cried in awhile. Her grieving process began before her husband passed, so it had run its course more quickly than Miles’. Now, however, on her way to his final resting place, she felt a great responsibility to her husband’s family. They were entrusting her with him—literally, this time.
She thanked God that she was standing on the shore with the can in her hands. There had been no freak accident or swell of anxiety that cast his ashes at any other spot. She was here at the exact point he said: St. August, Florida at Stone Beach in front of Corson’s Slop House. She was almost disgusted at his choice. Alice had to laugh though. It would be like her husband to pick somewhere that was special to him despite any blemishes in the landscape.
Alice put the can down momentarily to roll up the cuffs of her jeans. Her legs were prickly now since she hadn’t shaved them after the funeral. There was no reason at all other than social convention. She stood back up and looked at the can on the ground, trying to contemplate her next step. Simultaneously, Alice wished to get it over with as quick as possible and rip it off like a Band-Aid but also wanted to savor every moment, treat it with such delicacy and grace. Treat him with such delicacy and grace.
Sitting down beside the can, Alice looked out over the water and at the sun rising again. It was beautiful. The day was so clear and the sky was going to be so blue.
“I know why you wanted this, Pat,” she sighed, putting a hand on the can. “It’s beautiful here.”
It was quiet too, probably because it was the early morning. Alice swallowed, feeling tears again in her eyes as she had twice in the past few hours. “I wish you were here with me.” She amended, “I know you’re here. That’s not the same, though.”
She picked up the can and put it in her lap. How a two hundred and thirteen pound man could be reduced to less than ten pounds in her arms was unbelievable. Alice started to rock and back and forth, humming a mindless tune. She started to laugh at herself, stroking the sides of the can. “I love you,” Alice held up the can and stared at it with stiff contemplation, her lips curling over one another. She stood up and walked into the water. It was cold, almost freezing. She groaned and tiptoed deeper into the water. Her feet had fallen asleep now. It wasn’t even cold, it was just unfeeling.
Carefully, Alice opened the top of the can and looked at the ashes. It looked like gray sand with pebbles amidst it. She knew she couldn’t be so naïve. When she was eight, she had stumbled upon an urn that had been thrown out on Lake Michigan and started playing with the ashes with her friends. That is, until her mother came over and pulled them all away.
Her mother had not told her what it was, but she eventually figured it out. Alice had never thought about that urn again until her husband’s funeral when she thought about how he may one day be found by a group of eight year old girls who think it’s a mysterious pot of gray sand. She did not know if that was comforting or horrifying.
She ran her fingers through the ashes, seeing how they stained her fingers slightly. This was him. It was not only the man she loved. It was the man she had married and lived with and ate dinner with and watched die. There were so many things that she did with this man and he was now reduced to a coffee can of ash.
Alice wanted to call Miles and scream at him for throwing his brother into a Folgers’s can.
“Okay. Well, Patrick Marion Duran,” she stared into the open can and wrinkled her nose. “Jesus Christ.” Alice didn’t know what to say. What was she supposed to say? Standing alone in the Ocean with a coffee can full of her dead husband, what the fuck was she supposed to say? That she loved him? Tell him goodbye? These all were crass options and, if she was going to be honest, this whole process seemed tactless.
There wasn’t a good way to begin. She sifted some of the ashes through her hands and then took a handful out and started to let it slip through her fist. As much as she wanted to see every bit of him as she let him go, he wasn’t there. He was nothing more than dust.
Alice kept taking handfuls out, occasionally feeling a bone that hadn’t been completely burnt in the process. When she felt that, she would close her eyes and drop it down into the water beside her so she wouldn’t have to look directly at it. She would watch all the ashes fall and land softly on the water leaving dusty imprints on the surface. She didn’t know how long she had been standing there when she reached the bottom of the container. Alice was so thankful it was done.
A horrible feeling built up in her chest—the unceremonious tossing of her husband’s ashes. Standing in the ocean. Letting him fall.
Alice let him go.