Nick collapsed onto the padded swivel chair in his private study and tried to forget his mother’s funeral. Why on earth did they have to scatter her ashes? Were they so cheap that they couldn’t pay the gravedigger to bury the urn properly in a graveyard? His sister’s dramatic act, scattering her mom’s particles over her front flower bed had left him hollow inside.
There’s no way I’m stopping by for a chat under Marge’s front window, Mom. What if they ever decide to sell the place? He shuddered.
Real estate agents will now have to adjust the house description, not only declaring if someone died on the premises but if the person’s remains happen to be scattered about the place. Good luck, ghostbusters!
Gene was only twelve, but he had shot up so fast this summer that he looked more like a sixteen-year-old stretched to the breaking point. His hazel eyes hinted at hidden depths; an old soul trapped in a child’s body.
Nick roused himself and sat up straight. “Yeah, Gene. You need something?”
His gaze darting to the shelf lined with beautifully bound books, Gene inched his way into the room. Awkward as a colt finding his balance, he moved in hesitating steps. He stopped before a large volume of Shakespeare, right next to the classics section.
You can tell a lot about a person by the books they love, mom had always said.
Gene reached up and traced the edge of A Christmas Carol with his index finger.
Abundant patience Nick had never had, but even when maxed to his limits, he felt a chasm yawning between himself and his son. Maybe it’s just me.
Gene’s gaze landed on his father. “You’ll never do that to me, will you? I mean, if I died…you wouldn’t turn me into ashes and toss me into the bushes or something.”
Oh. My. Lord! For a minute, Nick wondered if every ounce of breath had been knocked from his body. Without premeditated thought, he rose and closed the distance between himself and the boy in a couple of strides. He grabbed his frail giant son and enveloped him in a bear hug. “Never! I’d never…I can’t even imagine…” He pulled back and dived into mournful eyes, sinking into a depth beyond his reckoning. “You won’t die, Gene! Don’t even think about it. I couldn’t stand it.”
The boy’s grim expression spoke of long consideration. “I will, though. We all do.”
His hands fell like lead weights at his sides. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure which of them needed reassurance more. “You’re still young yet; your mom and I will undoubtedly die before you. So, if you’d be so kind, bury us in the traditional way. You know, full body in a casket…in a proper grave…in a cemetery. With a priest to say a few words…a blessing of some kind.”
Hurriedly, Gene clarified the matter. “But Mom says that she wants to be scattered in the apple orchard.”
Nick’s future fell to pieces. He’d been married to Estella for—what—seventeen years? They knew each other inside and out. At least, I thought we did.
“Where did you get that idea?” Nick returned to his chair and collapsed again. He nodded to the recliner that Gene had always loved to snuggle in as a kid.
"Mom told me after we got home. She said that Aunt Marge had the right idea about her mom—inexpensive, symbolic, without fuss. She even said that maybe she’d end up as fertilizer for the trees and would nourish grandkids in apples for years to come.”
Bile rose in Nick’s throat. “Who wants to eat their grandma?”
A hardened look changed his son’s face utterly. “I’d cut the orchard down before that happened.”
Nick nodded. Me too. Honestly, he didn’t know what to say. When Marge surprised him with the prearranged cremation plans and then launched into the scattering ceremony, he’d been completely caught off guard. Clearly, he’d been left in the dark for fear of protest. But what could he say if the whole thing was prearranged? “I’ll talk to your mom. Maybe she hasn’t thought this whole thing through. Just a crazy new fad that she got talked into by my sister, without realizing what it means to the rest of us.”
Gene’s stomach growled, and a red flush spread over his face. He jumped from the chair and snatched A Christmas Carol off the shelf. "Can I borrow this?"
Happiness fluttered over Nick. He may not know his wife anymore, but he might get to know his son. “Sure. Tell me when you get to the part about the Ghost of Christmas present. He’s my favorite.”
“Okay.” Clutching the volume to his chest as if protecting it from sudden book thieves, Gene glanced out the open door. “Mom will have lunch ready soon. But I just wanted to make sure…you understand. About me. When it’s my time. If you’re still around.”
Rising, Nick nodded. “And you’ll do right by me?”
Gene tipped his head.
A gentleman’s agreement.
When a lawn mower roared to life across the street, Nick thought of all the loose particles that never made it to the flowers but had scattered across the lawn. Lord have mercy! There goes mom.