She was constantly brushing her long hair when he was a child, using her fingers if she didn’t have her brush handy, tickling his face when she’d lean in to kiss him goodnight… long before the hair turned grey and she’d stopped cuddling with him, before the divorce, her depression, his divorce, her illness, their prescriptions crowding the same medicine cabinet, long before he began taking care of her.
He did a good job braiding her coarse hair, her forehead resting against the clean bark of a hickory, her arms and legs wrapped around the base of the tree as if it’d been her favorite, his knees squeezing her hips so she wouldn’t fall over, so it seemed they were both hugging the tree together. “Beautiful,” He told himself as he stood up, as he struggled to drag her body into the clearing where their things were spread out, her long braid trapped beneath the small of her back keeping her head from flopping around, the skin of her face taught, young.
He set up their things, pulled the bags from the craft store closer, the rice from the Dollarama. He did a practice run with his hand bouncing from the bag of feathers to the glass beads, the dried flowers, the muti-colored rice made special for throwing at weddings, to her. “Good,” he said, plunging both his hands into the little tub of margarine, remembering how they would share the artwork near the end. He’d hot glue the macaronis onto the poster board and then point to the white spaces where she could spend some time, an assortment of decorative trinkets within her reach.
He dallied at her feet, massaging the undersides with the palms of his hands, opening his eyes when the friction warmed her skin, lifting a scent so he had to double-check for movement, look to the streaks his fingers had made down the sides of her face, her neck, her breasts, swirling at her belly.
When he was done, he rubbed his hands into the grass so he could scoop up some feathers, shake them loose over her body so they’d stick to the margarine, their ends curling up as if she was ready to take off. The glass beads would heat up, fusing with her skin, so he placed her favorite colors, one green, one blue, over her eyes. The rest he spread in a multi-colored pattern, a base for the dried flowers, so they would come alive. The rice was the easiest to apply. He pitched it from high up, flicking it by the handfuls, filling all the white spaces. He wiped his hands on her housecoat before fishing the lighter out of his pocket.
“Beautiful,” he said as he looked through the unpainted frame he’d brought from home, holding it up where he wanted, his eyes sweeping the background for things to leave out as he stole one last picture of her, as she burned… beautifully.