Snowy Ashes

A Short Story by Pema

I was wearing my black knee length leggings from Target, the ones with white polka dots and lace on the bottoms. I got them when I went shopping for an outfit to wear to a play, paired them with a pink zebra print dress which in 2007 clashed just right. But now it felt wrong. Garish, wearing polka dots to a funeral. Excuse me, “celebration of life”. I kept tugging them down my knee, picking at the lace, for it was cold, Christ it was cold. It was April, right after Easter, and it was snowing. Thick, wet snow, more wads of soft ice than flakes, drifting slowly down. My cousins and I threw back our necks and saw a photo negative sky, eggshell white with gentle black peppercorns floating down our throats and spines.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We all knew grandma was going to die, but after she smoked a cigarette, organized grandpa’s debt and squeezed my mother’s hand, she drifted off in spring. It was supposed to be birds and blue sky when we sent her off. My aunt decorated the impromptu stage with vases of sunflowers, but their happy yellow petals froze to a sharp, shattering point. We weren’t expecting snow so I wore the short, black polka dot leggings under my black summer dress, and I was freezing. They told us not to wear black, that Sally wouldn’t have wanted it to be a somber occasion, but there sat grandma’s ashes in a jar, so what else could I wear. Not the zebra dress.

It was my first funeral, sorry “remembrance service,” and it felt wrong. We were at my aunt and uncle’s farm, hiding under the tent they used for events, sitting on the chairs they had rented for a wedding the weekend before. These were “kiss the bride” and “I do” folding chairs, not “guess I’ll never eat crappy Kraft Mac n Cheese and watch Nickelodeon in front of the TV with grandma again” chairs. I was faced with the stark reality of healthy Annie’s boxed mac n cheese and PBS kids shows and death, and Christ it was cold. One of grandma’s friends who flew in from California stood up, spread her arms, palms up, to the sky and cried “look, it’s raining flower petals just for you, Sally!” and we all made that pleasant “mmm” closed-mouth smile noises, the kind you make after you get tired of oohing and ahhing at fireworks or when an adult makes a particularly poetic toast, and nodded.

And it was beautiful, thinking someone up somewhere was tossing down ivory petals at our feet. Probably peony petals, those were her favorite, probably white peony petals. But then cousin Sammy’s tears and snot froze to his face and I picked and pulled at my leggings so hard I tore a hole in them, and my calves shook so hard they rattled those awful numb chairs. So our older cousin Clinton held our hands and led us inside the house, far away from grandma’s petals and her jar. 

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