The Button

by Sean Hetherington

My older brother, Chad gave a startled little yip as they locked the door behind us. The crematorium was not windowless, narrow, or the gray tone of charred bones. It was woodsy, wide, like a hotel banquet hall, the kind named Sequoia or Oleander or Wayne Newton if it were in Vegas. But here, in Tahoe, it was splattered with Thomas Kinkade prints and drowning in urn-like pots of fake flowers, mums mostly, with occasional rubber sunflowers. After the mortician sadly (faker than the mums!) and kindly (looking at her watch!) asked us how we were feeling, she got down to business and asked who wanted to press the button.

Chad couldn’t do it, couldn’t do this, and said he’d wait in the car. I told him this would be a four-hour deal, our dad had been three hundred fifty pounds when the stroke got him. Chad faked an incoming call and started saying things like, “Did you reboot the system? Well, did all the orders get wiped away? Let me get to my car, I’ll connect to a hotspot and try to reorganize the data ports.” He mouthed sorry and headed for the door. The mortician let him out.

I pressed the button and my dad’s body, packed neatly in cardboard ($300 less than the plywood option), bounced down the metal belt like a broken bumper car into the firepit, offering me “peace of mind” as the brochure described the cremation viewing process.

It’s worth noting what I did not remember. I did not remember Dad’s disappointed look when he drove me, at thirteen, to the park determined to teach me the rules of football, and instead, I just watched a toddler fly her purple kite, thrilled at how it whirled and twirled in the sky. I did not remember when he caught me masturbating to a WWE magazine centerfold spread of Hulk Hogan. I did not remember coming out to him, at twenty five, how I had to plant a folding chair in front of the TV to get his attention by blocking Fox News to say the words, “Dad, I’m gay. And I wanted you to be the first to know.”

What I did remember, is how when my stepmother cheated on him, at sixty years old, he called me, and thanked me for being there just to talk, the way none of his fishing buddies could. I remembered how he built my fifth grade science project for me: a model home with a working light bulb, and I insisted that we add a yard to the outside of the tiny house with plastic bouquets and farm animals from a generic Walmart doll set, how he rubbed the top of my bowl-cut head, and said, “You, son, always wanting to make things a little more livable.”

They handed me the urn, and I paid using the credit card that gives two miles on every dollar, remembering what he told me last year on Christmas: “When I go, do me a favor, son. Don’t make a fuss.”

Sean Hetherington is a creative writing student in the low residency MFA at UC Riverside, Palm Desert. He lives in Los Angeles with his partner and their two dogs, Ralph and Cricket.
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