by Kelly Conger

I still have grey dandruff between my roots, leftovers from the urn. It’s a comfort to me, knowing that pieces of your mother are on my mind. I’ll call you later and ask what you’ve put in the place where the urn used to rest. Hopefully you won’t avoid the topic because you have a tendency to do that to me. You know I prefer a concrete answer. Just tell me you leave a box of matches there now, nothing significant, just something that dust can accumulate on. It’s funny how short our visit was to that place, how quickly we all moved to get the fuse in line, the red stick duct-taped to the sides of the urn, how we all just left afterwards.

I fall asleep somewhere, sometime between microwaved pasta and cigarettes + your mother’s urn, my jeans still on and my shirt un-tucked with mismatched socks and one lonely pigtail in my hair. I haven’t worn pigtails since the second grade when Mark Deltranck ripped out my scrunchies and dropped them in the urinals, bastard. That is when I gave up on hair products for good. 

Also, I’m not usually this drunk. Most nights I make it home only halfway to wasted and right after bumble bees in my limbs. As to who brought me home, I should send them a fruit basket because I do not remember thanking them, whoever they were. I also doubt that I was the one to give myself a pigtail, and I assume someone did this to make an ass of me. Well, alas, I wasn’t aware of it, so perhaps their joke was a success. I wish you could see this because I look quite ridiculous. A mostly grown woman with a pigtail and no shoes.

I mentioned the pasta, which is what I ate in front of the TV before friends came to give me a lift. They are just the greatest friends a girl can have. Only had enough money for half a pack of cigarettes, so we passed them around, each taking drags off the same end, probably spreading herpes or malaria. Pretty sure one of us spent a summer in Malawi, could have contracted an Amazonian disease to be shared among us for the rest of our lives. When I didn’t have a cigarette in hand, I was tracing my finger along the designs on the urn sitting next to me. It’s really a beautiful elegant urn. Sitting there, I wanted to know what human ashes smelled like, how they would move between my slightly webbed fingers.

When we stopped, the night had started and without my corrective lenses, I couldn’t read the street signs. Were there even street signs to read? Could have been Hammond and 12th or Little Pine and Smithers. Didn’t really know North from South, didn’t pay attention on the ride over. Were you there? You handed me gin, I know that for sure.

When I didn’t get the cigarette for a while I began to miss its taste. We pulled over somewhere with no trees, no man-made structures. I feared that the lack of trees meant that less oxygen was there because that’s what they told us in middle school, trees make oxygen. That boy, Billy Tregman didn’t believe it so for six recesses in a row he’d put a leaf to his mouth and suck in air. I missed the cigarette more and more. There were eight of us, or five or ten, standing in that place. No one was right next to me. I leaned against the side of the van and kicked over the empty bottles by my feet. Someone told me to grab the urn and when I had it between my hands I dipped my head and took a big sniff at it. Don’t ask me what it smelled like. I can’t remember.   

One of them brought a fuse or ten. We took guesses at how much we’d need. Hyper-toxicity seemed abundant in our livers. The glass bottles full of translucent drink were translucent still but empty now. There were other bottles empty, though I’m not sure where we broke them into shards like shark teeth. It was all part of the ambiance of the night. One of the guys pulled me backwards, shouted to the rest, Back up! To the left, someone was crouched low, others plugged their ears. Did you light the fuse? How close were you to the urn?

I hope we were far enough back. I heard once that you can get radiation from that sort of thing. Respiratory problems too. And when the ashes reached our faces, I was satisfied with the smell of them. A little smokey, but mostly like old dust and leather. On my face they felt like red barbecue sauce and paint chips, though I didn’t crave soap and a washcloth after the rain stopped. The urn was some sort of metal, not shiny enough to feel valuable and worth keeping. You always loved your mother but apparently not enough to buy a high quality container for her remains.

It’s funny we never talked about it afterwards. The blast and the grey rain and how we sat like sardines in the back of the van. You must have driven because none of the faces in the back were all too comforting. Lots of five o’clock shadow and dangly earrings. I like that you shave your face.

Call me tomorrow. You’ll want to tell me why you thought this was a good idea. I’ve made my own assumptions – residual anger towards her, a personality disorder of some sort, sheer boredom and a stick of dynamite, too many vodka cranberries (which I personally feel is a drink too feminine for you) – but I want you to tell me. I want you to tell me a childhood story, one that would explain some of this.

I came along because there was a cigarette and friendly bottles and friendly friends and a dark van that I’m all too familiar with. I came along and I think you drove, so tell me how long you’d been planning this.