Friday, March 2, 2012

Burnt Offering

Last night I had a dream.

-- --

The sky was low and gray; it should have been late February or, as it is now, early March when Oregon wears all the colors of the rainbow from steel gray through dark gray to gray-green.

Though the rain had stopped the mournful firs were still dripping from the drizzle that had ended in promise of more rain to come.

Entropy had split the little group that was leaving the cemetary, dividing into ones and threes, talking quietly among themselves as they looked to find their cars for the wet ride home.

But the young woman who remained was still and silent, looking down at the wet grass.She was of a very middling sort; medium height, medium build, the hair escaping her dark headband a sort of midtone brown, her eyes a quiet hazel. Her face in repose was an unremarkable sort of oval, pointed chin small, brow smooth, her best feature that clear gaze now hooded with thought.

But when she spoke her voice was anything but midrange, instead, a startlingly deep contralto that cut through the distant street noise with a hint of brass.

"When I was a girl I never understood what you meant." she said to the ground before her feet. "And then when I grew up I didn't want to hear about it." She reached into her pocket as she continued. "But when you got sick last spring I remembered what you'd asked for. So. Here."

She bent a knee and laid the shallow brass bowl down next to the ash-spot on the grass. And, still genuflecting, placed several small items in the bowl; a spring of holly, and one of juniper, and four short hair-clippings.

"That's from Mom, and Shea, and one from me. And that sad little one is yours, what you had left after the chemo. It was the best I could do."

She removed a small vial from the same pocket and poured the contents into the bowl. Then struck a match and dropped it into the oil, which flared up in a smoke twining with the scents of juniper and hollyberry mixed with the acrid reek of human hair."You did the best you could, too. I miss you already, Dad. Thanks. Goodbye."

And my daughter Bryn straightened up and waited for the flame to burn down to ash.

And nodded her head once and walked away into the misting rain.

-- --

Of course, in life my oldest daughter never lived to burn a momento mori for me; instead ten years ago today I held her tiny body and felt her heart run ticking down and stop. Felt her little arms and legs grow cold. Held her and hugged her and wept over her.

And when I think of that day now, I can only weep again and remember why Heroditus said that only a great fool desires war more than peace, for in peace sons bury their fathers, while in war fathers bury their sons.

I cannot describe the loss of your child,except to say that there is as yet no nepenthe for fathers who bury their daughters.

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