by Valerie Geary
A mother reduced to dust and demonstrative pronouns.
At home, I set the urn—my mother and yet not my mother—on the counter beside the microwave. I take the cutting board from a drawer and dice tomatoes and onions and garlic. I open three cans of sauce and two cans of paste. Add basil and oregano and salt and pepper. I stir and watch the pot boil, but when I lift the spoon to my mouth, the flavors are all wrong. Her spaghetti sauce tastes like an Italian conversation. Mine like ketchup.
I reach for the phone, see the urn and drop my hand. She’s not waiting at the other end. The phone will ring and ring and ring and no one will answer. Or worse, I’ll get a busy signal.
I bring home a stranger from the bar. Adam. Or Aiden. Or maybe it’s Michael.
“I’m starving,” he says, stumbling into the kitchen.
I bury my face into his jacket because it smells like good weed and even better foreplay, and I say, “Me too.”
Before I can stop him, he unscrews the urn lid and sticks his hand in deep.
“Shit!” He yelps and jumps around like he’s got piranhas hanging from his fingertips. “That’s not—what the hell, man? What the hell?”
“It’s an urn,” I tell him.
“I thought it was a cookie jar.” He’s dancing and jumping and bits of ash are falling to the floor. They hit the blue-gray linoleum and disappear. “Who’s in there? Who did I shove my hand into?”
“My dog.” I don’t want him to leave. Not yet. I haven’t had a good lay in over six months. “She died last week. Cancer.”
“Who keeps ashes in their kitchen?” he says. “You’re sick, you know that? Sick.”
He grabs my face and shoves his tongue into my mouth.
Adam or Aiden or Michael rolls off me and folds his hands behind his head. “Got any bud?”
I shake my head and pull my underwear back on.
“I need something,” he says. “I need to get high.”
“I’ve got vodka,” I say, even though I want him to leave.
He reaches for his pants. “What about your dog?”
“What about her?” I sit on the edge of the bed and pull my hair into a ponytail.
“We could snort some. Maybe there’s chemicals mixed in. Formaldehyde or some shit.”
I turn on the light, and he blinks, then covers his eyes. His hands remind me of my father’s. I turn the light off and say, “I’m getting drunk.”
He follows me into the kitchen and hops onto the counter beside the urn. He’s swinging his legs and saying, “I bet you could get kids to buy this shit. Tell them it’s coke. Make a quick buck.”
There are small, red welts across his back in the shape of my fingernails.
I pull the vodka from the freezer and drink straight from the bottle; it burns going down. I pass the bottle to him, he throws it back and drinks and drinks, his throat bobbing. He sucks his teeth and hands the bottle over and I drink more.
I say, “Let’s try some.”
I get a straw from the cupboard and cut it in two. He unscrews the urn lid, scoops up a small pile and dumps it on the counter, makes four perfect lines. Ashes, ashes, and pretty maids all in a row. He sticks one end of the straw onto the countertop, the other into his right nostril.
I say, “It’s not my dog.”
He plugs his nose and snorts a line. He barks and steps back and shakes his head and laughs. “No way,” he says. “No way. Who? Tell me.” He bends over the counter and snorts another line.
“My mom,” I say.
He starts coughing and choking, then he stops and stands there, staring. Like he’s watching a two-headed llama hump a dolphin.
“Raw,” he says and spits into the sink. “Fucking raw.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” I put the straw up my nose and take a hit.
I thought it would hurt more. I thought I would feel different after. My eyes are watering and my nose itches, but that’s it. I snorted her ashes and all I can think about is how next time my father asks, “How you holding up, kiddo,” I can say, “Well, you know,” and shrug and then, “She’s never very far away. Always with me, really,” and tap my chest and, for once, I’ll be telling him the truth.
“You should go,” I tell Adam or Aiden, maybe Michael.
He says, “You sure you don’t want my help selling this stuff?”
I hold the door open and hand him his jacket.