It is better when I am alone.
They say vodka doesn’t smell. They are wrong. The odor of my sweat is essence of cat piss. A clay-hardened clump imprisoned in a litter box.
It is better when I am alone. The chinks in my façade more easily mortared.
My mother died last week. I cleaned out her apartment. Andy Panda was sequestered on a shelf in the back of the closet. His body hardened by time. He crackled when I lifted him. Perhaps he was stuffed with straw. I worried my pinky finger into a hole in the middle of his back. A puff of ancient wadding wafted. I sneezed from the musk. Andy’s fur had worn away. The white, now mottled tufts of yellow-grey. The black, irregular scabs of silver. Andy’s arms and legs barely attached to his body. His four appendages hardened to stony nubs. His eyes blinded slits emptied from shiny buttons. Unsymmetrical loosened stitches formed the grimace of nose and mouth. I reached for the garbage sack and stopped. I could not let go.
I stayed with my mother’s body during the two hours it took for the men to arrive from the morgue. I kept stroking her forehead and re-arranging her curls, dampened by the washcloth in my hand. She was still so warm when they arrived. That night I dreamed I was mistaken in letting the men carry her away.
Their car was an ordinary white mini-van. The interior retrofitted to accommodate the dead. They wore dark suits. One man short and fat, the other tall and skinny. An odd couple. Odd, to wear dark suits to haul away a dead body.
I readily agreed to have my mother incinerated. The arrangements made to reduce her two-hundred pound frame to oily ash. Diminished. Stuffed in a clear plastic bag. Interred in a rigid black box with a snap-shut lid. “Made in China.”
The crematorium is only ignited after dark. Sleeping neighbors don’t complain about the sooty smokestack emissions. I signed the papers promising not to sue the dark-suited men for igniting my mother.
There are no papers to sign for Andy Panda. No system to follow. His end fate sealed with the simple release of my clutch. Secured only by a twisted wire closure. Alone.
Trish Bowcock is a writer living in Jacksonville and Portland Oregon. Her essays have been published in several periodicals. “Dance of the Otter and Bear” was a winner in the Jackson County Reads contest for short non-fiction.