I remember walking out the long pier under umbrellas in steady rain. Our footsteps on the wet, wooden boards. The wheels of Mother’s chair rolling over the boards. My brother hunched over the chair, trying to push the chair and hold an umbrella over them both.
A light at the end of the pier over a wooden table under a roof.
We closed our umbrellas and huddled there under the shelter.
The few lights scattered up and down the strand were clouded by the rain. Or by the water in my eyes that, you know, it’s like you’d think the water would have run itself out after days and weeks of running like that from my eyes just running clear now without salt no sting just running and running like water from a faucet bathing my face so I had to wipe it with both hands and still my eyes were overflowing, so anyway the lights here and there along the strand were blurred. The Ferris wheel down at the pavilion was a diminutive, shimmering ring of light.
Her son came with the canister in his hands. I don’t know what I expected. I don’t know. I don’t know. But the sight of the canister in his hands hit me hard.
Heidi. We were all standing there. The family. All but Heidi. She was in the canister. Heidi. In the canister.
It was the largest in the set of four that used to sit on her kitchen counter for years and yet I can’t remember the design. Pale blue and white in a sea shell motif? Of course, with Lee, anything with sea shells or palm trees or gulls or dolphins. Little bits around her house of the playful spirit that had never been entirely extinguished.
She treasured her canister set and I am staring at the largest of the four and seeing her in her kitchen lifting the lid off and taking something out and setting the lid back on with a little clink and now she is in the canister.
How can this be?
I had to wait for her to die. I had to just let it happen. There was nothing I could do to stop it. My little sister was dying and I could do nothing but wait and let it happen.
My head was to her chest as her last breath left her body. I heard it. A long sigh.
We all had to go home and drive back the next weekend for the service on the pier.
I emailed the funeral parlor from home asking them to let us know when the cremation would be. I wanted to be with her for that. As one would stand when a coffin is lowered. I got this reply.
I am not sure if anyone got back to you.
Ms. Collins was cremated at 1:50 PM today.
I had sat stunned, staring at the words on my laptop. Staring.
I see a blur of faces around the wooden table on the pier. They take turns speaking. I can’t speak. I turn my back, my face grotesque in my hands.
Like at home during the months of days slipping by helpless to stop her time running out any kind of music would drive me from the room, keeping my face straight so he wouldn’t see it breaking into ugly pieces and in the laundry room leaning over the dryer with my face in my hands sobbing with no sound my eyes and nose running water over my hands.
Her son and daughter and granddaughter are moving to the railing. He’s holding the canister between his hands and I say something about being careful of wind direction and he turns and goes to the other side of the pier and leans over lifting the lid and I rush up there and would have flung out my hands to stop Heidi from going into the sea but all I can do is grip the rain-struck railing and yearn with my whole body toward the billowing ash.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM thundering along the horizon like the big guns of naval destroyers all firing at will BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM and lightening trembling in the storm clouds, illuminating swiftly up and down the horizon with each BOOM the smoked blue of the pre-dawn sky and I am leaning over the rail watching the ash billowing like a long, ribboning scarf, gossamer in the sea breeze, falling like light upon the dark grey water rolling deeply steadily toward shore, a dozen long-stemmed roses floating upon the sifting of ash, the roses drops of deep coral and yellow upon the silver of the ash and the dark of the sea.
Water flows from my eyes down my neck as I watch the float of the roses and Heidi seaward, away from the roll of the swells to the shore.
I thought the ash would never stop billowing, descending like a furling ribbon upon the swells. People were turning away, umbrellas going back down the pier, but I could not leave her there floating away from us. I could not leave her there floating out to sea alone.
I had not been able to save her. She was my baby sister and I had had to let her die.
I could not turn back to light and life with Heidi Lee floating alone into a dark sea.
Even with deep coral and yellow roses. Just Lee and her roses, floating away, the shimmer of the ashes on the water fading.
I lowered my head to my hands on the rain-struck rail.
The swath of silvery ash on the waves undulant and the roses, deep coral and yellow, rising and falling
rising and falling