To the End
With a whoosh flames spread, going up quick and hot. It was silent, then, save the crackling of the pyre, like the fire was having a turn now to speak as it began carrying the dead along. Everyone gave it space to, even, standing still and quiet, just waiting.
Well… or crying.
It was easy now. The whole family was there. There was nothing else that needed planning or doing. Nothing else that took precedence over thinking about the determined, purposeful edge to everything Varotontli did now. About how much space was no longer filled in her, how deep into her skin she could press with her fingers, how much like wet clay she felt under everyone’s hugs. About how she’d brought Papá’s pallet and blanket from home to put on the pyre to burn up, never used.
Little by little, as the fires started dying, people trickled away to Moe’s.
Then the pyre fell still, save the occasional breeze breathing life into glowing embers. Soon those too went out.
That signaled the few people who lingered. At once Rube shifted a limp but mumbling Summer from against his side to into his arms and headed off; Hathor parted with a hug, a kiss, and an aching smile; Derrick moved Wessy to his other arm and he, Sanura, and Ange started away; Varotontli looked to Lena, smiled, and began to rise, while she took his kerchief and dropped it in a shadow maw; and Aida sent a look to Bren and slowed her meditative winding and unwinding of Sofia’s hair.
Aida took in a deep breath. “Hey.” She looked down. “How are you feeling about the ashes? You want us to take care of it?”
Sofia’d only thought about it a couple times since they first brought it up, when Bren and Aida were helping her figure out how to funeral. It’d been too hard to decide.
Now… time was almost up already. This would be the absolute last of it. And so far it was all a little hazy in a blur of crying and hugs and kisses and comforting words.
She needed a little more time. Now that it was quiet. Now that she’d been emptied.
“I can do it.”
Bren opened a little, giving her legs room to move. “You sure?”
Sofia began slowly sliding her legs off Bren’s lap and lifting her head off Aida’s. “Mhmm.”
Bren turned to face her a little better. “You want us to stick around?”
Maybe that would be smart. But… but she didn’t need hugs or words or support right now. And space sounded… nice. And they weren’t gonna be far anyway. Moe had a door to here.
“Thanks.” Sofia gave them a smile. “I’m okay.”
Aida ran a hand over her shoulder and squeezed her arm. “Okay. We’ll get a bath ready for you back at Moe’s.”
More hugs, more kisses. And then they all stood. Bren and Aida began heading off the plateau, each offering Varotontli the same as they left. He declined, though, as polite as he could. He hadn’t wanted to be touched by anyone for days now. Saving himself up. Lena drifted close by him, steady and waiting, shining, hidden breezes flicking at her hair and dress.
“Hey, girlie,” said a voice at Sofia’s shoulder, in Spanish.
Abuela. She circled around.
“Please let me help you spread the ashes”. Her eyes came up to the very edge of politeness.
That… might be nice. Probably Abuela had, like, the first right to that anyway. “Yes, of course”.
So, with a brief promise to Varotontli that she’d join him at Moe’s in a bit, and that she’d be okay, Abuela and her covered their noses and mouths and took up their squares of canvas and approached the pile of only just barely smoking ashes. Shapeless, shifting. Ready to be scattered to the ends of the world and back.
There had been a shape, a time where she’d fit snug against his side, and his arm could wrap her around and pull her tight. He’d always been warm, and smelled like… like him. His smell was the smell of The Avengers, of Wreck-It Ralph, of Despicable Me.
They must’ve watched those movies together at least thirty times in half as many days. Each. Having been on the other side of that now, with Summer and Lili… knowing the words of Where the Wild Things Are and Go the F—k To Sleep and “The Cremation of Sam McGee” like the back of her own hand…
Maybe he could’ve recited it all from memory too. Maybe he’d even been proud of it, like she was.
What other tales would she have—?
No. She didn’t really want to know. She’d be scattering that too, in a moment.
“Sofia”. A hand came to rest on her shoulder. “Take your time”. Abuela was calm, firm, crinkling her nose briefly to punctuate.
Well… all she was doing was going in circles. Thinking about Papá, then thinking about her son. She’d already done that at least thirteen times. It hardly even hurt anymore.
“Thanks. I’m okay”. Sofia offered her a bit of a smile. “I’m just not doing so well at the whole being focused thing right now”. She stooped and began scooping the ashes into her canvas.
Abuela was doing the whole being supportive thing again… Had she had an opportunity to mourn the way she needed to?
“¿Are you doing alright?” Sofia asked.
Abuela didn’t look up. “¿Me?” A small smile lit over her. “I have an idea of what he’s going through. Been there, done that”. She held onto the silence for a couple passes of her arm, her smile fading. “I’m not worried about him”.
That wasn’t really an answer.
“We mourn for ourselves, though. For what we lost”.
Oh, wait. Maybe she’d purposefully avoided answering the question.
But it was alright. Abuela still didn’t have to answer if she didn’t want to. That statement was open enough for her to say something different, or even just stay quiet.
She did, for a little while. But then she gave a small smile again and spoke.
“I lost my Ale once already. Before either of us died”. Then she looked up. Thought a moment. Then took Sofia’s hand. Rubbed her thumb over it, smearing ash. “You brought him back, girlie. Over and over again”.
This was the first time Abuela’d said anything about the time before she died.
She took in a sharp breath and continued. “Every time you visited, I got to see him. And…” She hesitated. “He died trying to be himself again”. She brought her gaze up, direct. “I’m so grateful for that. For you. And so…” Her gaze diverted, to her thoughts. “So relieved for him”.
There was… nothing to say to that.
Abuela hung on for a little while, thinking some more. And then she squeezed and let go, to get back to gathering up the ashes. Sofia joined her, after a moment.
What did… what did she see, then? Had he… been like he was? Was it just nothing new, the first in what was to become a cycle? Or was it different? Less bad or… or more?
What about him had made her lose hope?
The thoughts pulled at her eyes, her face, her shoulders, everything, the same way not sleeping used to. Abuela might be willing to talk about it but… it was a moot point anyway. All it would do was maybe hurt Abuela, and definitely hurt her.
Still… there was a point where Abuela’d had him. Or else she wouldn’t have thought she’d lost him. There was a side of Papá’s that was just hers.
Maybe she’d like to share. Maybe it’d be nice to hear.
“¿What was he like growing up?”
Abuela’s eyes crinkled at the edges. She was smiling, beneath her mask. “Stubborn. About everything”. She gathered up the corners of her canvas and hefted her bundle of ashes. “But very sneaky in the ways he was stubborn. And smart, very smart. Smarter than me, that’s for sure, starting when he was maybe eight years old”. She paused and sent a canny look along. “Well, that’s when he started getting into less trouble, anyway”.
Trouble meant stories. Fun stories, if Abuela’s smile indicated anything. “¿What kind of trouble did he get into?”
Abuela let out a breath. “Girlie”. She shook her head, and smiled again. “Let me tell you”…