Mother always wanted to be buried at sea. Laura and I pledged, after she died, that we would make that happen. So from the Kansas flatlands we traveled west by train, on new-laid track through forest and desert and rain.
Weeks passed in silence. We promised we would never speak again of that night, and circumstance had left us with little else. Laura sat by the window. Though she did not say it, I think she loved to watch the landscape rolling by. Watching her, she seemed to age thirty years, the burden of sin. She became the mirror image of the parent we lost. Once, she caught me looking at her and frowned, hard black eyes like coal penetrating to the core of my thoughts.
“I’m not like her, you know. I swear I never will be!”
I nodded in response, silently making the same promise.
As we traveled, Mother waited in the luggage rack in a plain, unadorned urn, returned to dust as we all will be some day. She rolled around above our heads, looming nearly as large in death as she did in life. When the conductor came to take our tickets, he noticed the urn with a start. After that we were left alone. The mysterious children. The couriers of death.
Eventually, our journey ended. We came to California. We wound through the streets, following our noses to the sea. It was vaster than we had ever imagined, stretching out past the limit of our eyesight. We waited for evening, until the sun began to crash beneath the horizon, Mother in hand.
“Bury me.” She said, spitting blood. “Bury me where I daren’t rise again. Bury me beneath the weight of the ocean. Bury me with the setting sun. Promise me you’ll see this through. For the good of the world. Promise me!”
She clutched my hand, which still clenched the knife buried in her side, and convulsed, and screeched. Then fell still. Her emerald eyes faded and were black as I closed them a final time.
I opened the urn, grabbed two nearby rocks, and dumped them into the ash. Resealing the urn, I took my sister’s hand, looked her in her cobalt eyes and walked onto a rock outcropping that extended over deep ocean waters. Here, in San Francisco, we consummated a funeral deferred. We had no words, no fond memories of our time with Mother. When we knew her, it was as a woman possessed. The time before, when she was gentle still, remained shrouded in the past. Flashes of kindness. The echo of a smile. The laughter we remember as toddlers. A time as distant to us as Mother was now.
Yet I felt that one of us should speak before the deed was done.
“Earth to Earth,” I whispered, “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.”
The urn sank into the ocean depths quickly. Within seconds, all we saw were the waves.
After a moment, Laura finished my thought. “And may dust be all that remains.”
We watched the ocean for a while. Watched the tide recede. Watched as the moon rose to replace the sun, bathing the world in faint silver light. Watched to see if the urn would resurface. Clasped together, my hands trembled. I hoped that Laura did not notice. Hours crept by, until satisfied, I turned to leave the burial ground.
Laura waited a while longer, whispering a silent prayer before following. Ahead of her, in the night, I did not then notice her smile.
I did not notice: her once jet black eyes glowed emerald green.