David Corbett ~ The Fortieth Day, then The Forty-First

by David Corbett

by David Corbett

Spread your ashes yesterday at Bolinas, where you wanted. The date was my choice: the fortieth day after your death. I selected it for the lore: Buddhist souls, they say, leave the earth and continue on into the circle of transmigration. For Christians, it’s the day Jesus ascended. Seemed as good a time as any to let you go.

A storm threatened offshore, vast blue masses of cloud in high winds, the beach hazed and empty but for us. Everyone came wrapped in weather gear: Marcie and Margaret, Jackie and Vivian, Laura, Dawn, Steph, Loreto and Mo, Juliet. Just the eleven of us. Plus the dogs.

Tillie, your favorite, thundered up and down the beach, barking in the wind. Bugsy chased his ball and hit everybody up for love, of course. Katie, alpha dog, big-sistered the other two. I got the sense they knew something I didn’t, Tillie in particular—that you were there with us. Happy.

I hugged your urn, walking the beach a little ahead of the others, not wanting to let go of you and yet knowing that was the deal. So little choice anymore, in what to do.

There were no speeches, you’d have liked that. But as the wind blew cold and hard, the roar of the surf in our ears, I donned the rubber boots you used to wear in the garden, lifted the lid to your urn, cut the plastic, and sifted your ashes, dense and gray-white, into the surf. They left a trail for a moment, reaching shoreward just once as I ran my fingers through them. Whispered my farewell. Then the waves took you.

We tossed rose petals, some from your garden, across the shore. Mo took off her shoes and socks to run the surf, trailing petals. We all had lunch together after but it was mechanical, for me at any rate, sitting there clutching the cement sack of my grief. Thought about returning with the dogs alone but the storm had reached a nasty pitch, rain the size of quarters and growing wind. So goodbyes were said and home we went, in the miserable weather, your ashes at our back swirling in the wild sea, as you wished.

The next morning, on the forty-first day, I awoke early. The moment I cracked my eyes, I said out loud, “She’s gone”—knowing it as I hadn’t before, distinct, like stone. Even the dogs felt it. They played without heart then collapsed in the hall, paws on chins, sighing. Except Katie, the one we’ve had since our own beginning. She sat sadly alert, head up just a little, blinking. Waiting.

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