As If You Could Escape

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The blinds lift automatically.
I stand behind glass. You’re enclosed in a fiberboard box that from here looks like stone. Because by law you must be contained before you are rolled into the fire. As if you could escape.

Inside the box, you are dressed in a blue-and-white short-sleeved shirt that used to complement your skin tone. The same shirt you were wearing when we sat on the patio of the Mexican restaurant one summer afternoon long ago, drinking margaritas, half the rim salted, half not,
while knockout roses bloomed in nearby pots.

Inside the box, you are wearing khaki pants, but no socks. When Justin, the funeral director, came last week to pick up your body, I handed him a small pile of your clothing, topped by a ball of black socks. He said you didn’t need socks, so I must have returned them to the drawer. As if you could escape.

I read a Buddhist poem. The silver crematory door raises and the gears on the conveyor belt begin to roll. I’m so intent on reading the poem that I miss your going in.

****

At twenty-eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit, it still takes four and a half hours to cremate the average-size body. You went in at 1:30, which means you’ll be done by 6, so I go buy tomato plants and some cages. I take a late lunch, occasionally checking the time, and think of you as a stick of incense, orange and glowing.

After burning for four and half hours, the average-size body needs time to cool. The next morning at 11 I pick you up. Your urn is a handmade box of poplar, a tall and sturdy tree that is resistant to disease. I remove the lid and see that your cremains are encased in a clear plastic bag, which is tied off and secured with a silver tag. As if you could escape.

The bag is warm to the touch, the temperature of tortillas when they arrived at our table on the patio of the Mexican restaurant one summer afternoon long ago. I ladle out a portion of your ashes for your brother. Somewhere in here are your kind brown eyes, the constellation of moles that streaked across your left cheek, your blue-and-white short-sleeved shirt.

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