Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write for the BIOGRAPHICAL Genre (12/04/14)
TITLE: Stepping Stones
By Heather Sargent
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“We tried, we really did. Too young for old age you left no instructions to honor you in death other than what you told Mom, ‘I’m afraid of fire.’ Your only instruction, to be buried, not cremated.” Tears run hot down my face and splash onto the heart I covet in my hand, I swear I hear a hiss with each drop.
I lower the weighty heart back to its boxed blue velvet resting place as if it were made of glass but leave the lid open. My eyes scan the heart taking time to study any detail, maybe searching for some whisper of forgiveness. This is ridiculous. She’s dead, she doesn’t care now. The silence stretches out – heavy at first, like tar – so I continue, maybe as much for my sake as hers. “We felt you’d rather be cremated so your ashes could be buried with your dad than to keep your body whole but alone in some random far off plot away from anything and everything you loved. But I can’t shake the guilt, your only wish was carried away with the wind like a dandelion gone to seed. Should good intentions matter? Is the sin so blatant we can hope for nothing better than to spend our remaining years wandering in a silent forest, our guilty souls never to reconcile with yours?”
The compulsion to make my beloved grandmother understand washes over my being so I resort to pleading with the empty room, “we knew how you felt about family though, family was always first, family was everything. We couldn’t imagine your body disintegrating, reaching out for something familiar only to find you’re trapped within the casketed walls knowing there’s nothing looking out for you on the other side, so alone. Maybe it’s stupid, maybe it doesn’t matter. Please don’t be mad.” Biting my lip I close the lid securing the golden lock.
Her crushed velvet case in one hand I take my mug of now-tepid chocolate into the living room and sit on the couch to admire the Christmas lights. The pine aroma swirls like vapor around me and reminds me of Christmases past. I open the case, again turning it toward the twinkling tree and nestle the mug into both hands, enjoying the illusion of warmth it provides.
“It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” I tell her, smiling. “We came home after waving goodbye to you from the hospital roof, just a week before Christmas. James ran ahead to unlock the door for the kids and I to drag our baggage through and his eyes painted the most compassionate smile on his face as he waited for us to gather. When he opened the door we were greeted by a beautiful tree, decorated as if you were there but with James as your hands and feet. He knew how important it was to our family to feel your presence somewhere during this favorite season of yours, the one you always made so magical for us. We had forgotten about Christmas until then.”
I slide the empty mug to the edge of the coffee table and pull the aged blanket my grandmother crocheted over myself as I tuck my knees to my chest. “It felt like you, in those twinkling lights. Like you were telling us your light isn’t diminished and shines even brighter now. That was the best.” I let my head fall back into the couch and clutch the blanket like a prized childhood toy I was unwilling to share. I can’t believe it’s been eight years.
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