I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation tonight, about what we talked about when we talked about death, about how the mortuary as I always knew it is gone now, moved down the street to the old car dealership where I was propositioned by a man three times my age when I asked him to write a check for an ad to print in the back of my high school yearbook.
Not my first sale; fifteen years later it still happens; my kindness
my cheerful affect
mistaken for weakness. It couldn’t be less true.
I’ve never had any illusions about what happens when we die.
All those Sundays spent on deliveries, watching you place a wreath on a stand next to the casket, the sound the stapler made as you affixed a name to wide floral ribbon—
letter by letter,
kerning set in cursive gold paper, in memoriam.
You and dad pieced a rough-hewn log of directions to the graves we delivered flowers to; standing orders on the mornings of what used to be birthdays, of golden anniversaries spent separately. You knew more than anyone where we go when we are gone.
Old enough to wonder, I stood at your work bench while you stripped leaves from stems with a well-worn Swiss Army knife (J-U-D-Y Sharpied across the front);
the flower shop smelled of leaves and of the cool damp walk in, a large window in the front where you’d put my clumsy arrangements on display.
They always sold, the week old carnations sticking out at odd angles; I don’t know if it was you who purchased them all but that’s not the point now, anyways.
You told me it was our job to tuck them in right.
A service each weekend, a casket in a quiet room, rolling the heavy funeral spray to the far end of the chapel. If it was alright, if we’d finished a minute early and nobody had arrived, you’d lift me to see the body in the box.
I’d spent more time at funerals by the time I was just eight than most people will spend in a whole lifetime. In a small town, you know them all and still–
when Joan passed the day after Christmas, when you drove over to our house to tell me that afternoon that she was well and truly gone, a chasm opened beneath me.
I could feel the limestone bedrock.
I could smell the iron in the soil and
I could see me, age six, holding a funeral for a perfect sparrow fallen from the sky
small talons rigored inward, an ashy open eye.
Jill Bergantz Carley makes her home in Calaveras County, California, where she lives a half mile from the stoplight and directly over the Mother Lode. Married to Loren, the kindest man in all existence; loved by Violet, the best dog in the whole damn world. She can be found online at jillbergantzcarley.com and on Twitter: @jbergantzcarley