by Cath Holland

I wanted to keep your boots. The flashy pair of deafening snakeskin got cremated with you anyway. More mistake over malice, burned with your bones and teeth and hair and skin and photos and sweet missives and a single, pretty flower. The pick n mix you, tiny chips and powder of grey and black and white, is poured into a maroon plastic urn the same shape and size as a giant jar of sweets in the corner shop. Gets handed to me like a prize, as if I’ve won something.

Everyone wants to scatter you in the Lake District, get well twitchy over it. Cumbria is school trips and easy Wordsworth poems, wild above ground and green underfoot, calm waters. A fair enough balance, and a most respectable setting for closure. But in secret I scoop half of you into a fancy hand painted box to keep just for me. Though I work slow and steady, grains of powder swell my throat. I cough it clear, dab watery eyes and blow my nose empty. Ash patterns the tissue in a snot ink blot. I put my half of you back on the shelf in our living room with your glasses and rings and things, my heart going some.

The hired car with new tyres making too easy work of the motorway bloody well flies towards the Lakes, no stops. I can’t see out of the windows thick and wet and grey with condensation. There isn’t much to talk about at the lakeside, apart from how much you’d love it here. The same thing repeated in different annoying ways doesn’t stop me saying it myself, like a performing seal. Because everyone likes the Lakes, right? I stare at the still water, sealed by invisible skin. Wonder how deep it is.  A young man in very snug swimming trunks appears across the way. Walks in to the water, slowly, ‘til he’s upper thigh deep, answering my query. What would Wainwright say to him as part of the scenery? Your cousin Donna sucks her cheeks inside out but can’t stop watching.

I tell the story about your boots. No one has any idea. Could have sworn I mentioned it. I think they need someone to be angry at. May as well be the funeral director in his office or swimming trunks guy too far away to scold. We each take a handful of ashes. My words to you, about you, come out wrong. I borrow verse, don’t amend it to fit.

Human ashes hit water more loudly than you’d think. The surface ripples but fails break, at first. The hissing sound in my ears when they do sink comes from me.  

The return journey home needs words giddy with relief to fill it.  Someone wonders how many people choose the Lakes for that, such a beautiful spot! Everybody nods madly. Another pings the ring pull on a can of Coke before tearing it right off. The contents fizz and pop.

I won’t tell them ash is on my mind and under my fingernails.  I don’t share with the group how I taste it in my mouth and throat—again—and feel it pink my eyes and raise my skin scarlet. How I hope that each speck of it floating in the lake is 100% boot.

Your auntie worries about her washing. And leaving the dog on his own for this long, she bets he’s done his business on the kitchen floor again! Murder to clean up, it stinks. Bloody dog’s a pain but she loves him. It’s like having a baby in the house again. Imagine that, at her age.

Donna’s got an early start tomorrow. And she wasn’t going to tell me before, because y’know, but she’s getting divorced. She lowers her voice and it wobbles a bit. It’s you dying that decided it for her she says, eyes damp and shiny. After all, life’s too short for being with people you really truly shouldn’t.

Cath Holland is a writer of fiction and fact based on Merseyside. She is published in Mslexia, Know Your Place – Essays on the Working Class (Dead Ink Books), Story Cities (Arachne Press), NFFD anthologies, Fictive Dream, Spontaneity and lots more beautiful places in print and online. Twitter: @cathholland01