I spent more time with you than my own mother. You gave me my first lesson in pastry making.
“It takes a deft hand and a clear conscience to keep it light,” you said. I was waiting for your son; perhaps he was your favorite.
“A tidy kitchen means no work is being done.” you said. Perching on one of your mismatched kitchen chairs, I watched as you cleared a space the size of a chopping board by sweeping newspapers, grocery store coupons, even used crockery to one side.
“Tuck the pastry in around the edges to keep the filling safe. Cover it up and tuck it in tight,” you said.
In one corner of the room was a bicycle upside down on its saddle. Your son, the man I had loved, immortalised it in charcoal. He captured it in that vulnerable position with gears, wheels and pedals showing. I felt sympathy for that bike. Old, well used, it looked as if it had a real life. His drawing said so.
He drew me too. There was a sense of exposure about his portraits; he was so capable of harnessing emotion with one or two broad strokes of that soft, gray wand.
Your son came in; we left the room as I thanked you.
“I’ll tell you when it’s baked,” you called after me. I never came back for the piece of pie.
I had come to tell him that I was too exposed, too vulnerable. He was not the man for me.
He and I would not meet again until he invited me to your funeral.
There are seven men and one woman at your graveside. Respectfully, those less entitled in your life, like me, move a distance from the hole.
The shiny coffin sits askew at the bottom. The few sprinkles of earth from the service and flowers that you would have thought a waste of money all lie untidily on its polished lid. It’s fitting that in departure, as in life, your space is unkempt. It isn’t that you were deliberately sloppy, but you always had something more philanthropic to do than tidy up. You tore about the neighbourhood on your bike, some awkwardly set parcel in the basket at the front, searching for souls to save.
You would have approved of this mess here; it shows that real work is being done. Your son can’t approve of it.
You’re lying at the bottom of a gaping hole. He can’t leave you exposed. He has to tuck you in to keep you safe.
He takes hold of a shovel and starts to fold you in to the welcoming warmth of the earth. His father, brothers and sister watch as your dignity is slowly restored. He covers you in the dense, dark soil, away from prying eyes.
Slowly, methodically, they wake in turn from the paralysis of their grief, joining him in his task.
They bury you themselves, dissipating the emotion of their actions with brave, dignified shovelfuls, and ignoring the incredulous looks of the bystanders.
They are doing real work, you would say, not wasting their time.
He does it. If he was your favorite, he has repaid that debt, wrapping you in love and tucking you in. He catches up with me at the entrance to the cemetery.
“I have something for you; I found these the other day.”
He takes my hand; with his other, he presses a folded wad of sketching paper into it. “She must have tucked these away.”
I open the paper. There are two charcoal sketches, one of a bicycle, upside down, the other of a girl, smiling, wistful. The only lines on my face are those of the charcoal strokes. I look young, fresh, loved.
He extends his hand to me.
Elizabeth Houlton Schofield’s stories have appeared in the Globe and Mail, and been published in Drunk Monkeys and in Hearing Voices, the Bareback Anthology, 2014. Her stories have placed in The Royal City Literary Arts Society 2014 Write On! competition. She won the Honorable Mention at The Surrey International Writer’s Festival, 2013, was published in the Conference Anthology and shortlisted for Literary Writes 2013 (Federation of BC Writers), and Room magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards 2012.