LAST RESPECTS • by Jillian Schmidt

Anna stepped forward with the glass jar cradled in her hands. It seemed heavier now that she was here, but the lid unscrewed easily, letting a few ashes escape on the breeze. She stared down at the rest and felt her chest tighten. The jar had been his idea — no sense wasting money on an overpriced and unattractive urn, he’d said, looking pointedly at the flower arrangement she’d placed beside the hospital bed, and then throwing a disparaging glance at her embroidered purse for good measure. She would obviously squander the inheritance anyway, but she didn’t have to start with a gaudy piece of pottery purchased in his name.

A scream rose in Anna’s throat as she swung the jar and watched the ashes drift down. She opened her mouth, unsure if the escaping cry would be triumphant or agonized. Instead she choked as a handful of bitter flakes coated her tongue and wound down her throat. Maybe this was his revenge. Maybe she deserved it.

As always, his instructions had been clear. She must cast his ashes into the Yosemite Valley from the highest point her pathetic hiking skills could reach. His remains deserved such an epic final resting place, and she owed him at least that much for all the years he’d spent trying to shape her into someone worthwhile. Besides, he had added, lifting his head off the pillow to get a better look at her, she could clearly use the exercise and the sun.

Anna and her father had agreed on something, at least: the dead should be treated as they lived.

Gulls cried overhead as she picked her way back down the pile of trash and crossed the field of rust and rot, past broken microwaves and shredded tires and an undulating ocean of plastic bags, the discarded fragments of a million lives. She nodded silently to the maintenance worker and stepped through the gate without looking back. As she walked, the stench and the singed taste of death began to fade, and finally she could breathe.

Jillian Schmidt writes dark and quirky stories from her new home in Oregon, where she lives with her husband and a family of bicycles.

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