The funeral director was understanding; he didn’t even blink when the sister asked if she and her brother could watch their mother’s cremation. He provided two viewing chairs, said an employee would be in to reposition the ashes halfway through and asked if one of them would care to push the button. The brother, trembling, put his forefinger on the button and the sister held it down and they both watched the small shrouded figure in the cardboard box slide into the retort. Then they sat down. There wasn’t much to see in the room, there was no smell and very little sound, just a friendly campfire crackle from time to time, and the brother said it was crazy but he was hungry and the sister said she was sorry she hadn’t brought a snack at least, or a soft drink. They sat in silence for a while, then, “Do you think she ever loved us?” the brother asked in a childlike voice and the sister said, “As much as she could” and they both laughed—as much as she could!– before the brother began to cry and the sister took his hand and said, “It’s all right, it’s over.” They both jumped when an old man in a baseball cap came in, opened the chamber door, and pushed into the flames with his shovel. The sister was the first to see the mother’s burnt skull with its bared teeth and one eye socket ablaze and she sucked in her breath and stared straight back but the brother cried “Sweet Jesus” and covered his eyes. “We should talk,” the sister said when the old man left. “I know,” the brother agreed. But neither spoke.
Art by Jessica Gawinski