via Daily Prompt:
One row ahead and slightly to the right, a whirligig is stealing my attention. It is cheap and purple and spinning wildly. It’s captivating me because it is the only movement in the cemetery, besides the massive American flag, so big and so high above me it doesn’t register. I know it is there because it randomly snaps on itself with a whomp, like faraway thunder. I pull my attention back to my mother’s grave.
‘Mom. Find peace with what’s happening today,’ I say silently as I stare down.
Her grave is no bigger than a moving box. I can’t throw myself on it, prostrate with grief. Maybe that was the intention. No unsightly grief in the National Cemetery, please. It fits in with the respectful, standard issue tombstone. There was slight customization allowed. I remember when we finally received the form how we agonized over the wording and the selection of which religious device could be engraved at the top. This has lead to a strange affinity with the Japanese soldier four rows before my mom. The Shinto arch on his stone is like a beacon, helping me navigate through a sea of crosses. Every time, I am awash with relief when I find her. He’s saved me yet again from feeling like a horrible daughter, stumbling over everyone, peeking at strangers, can’t find her own mom’s grave.
‘If you are mad, let it go. I will too.’
I bend down and place the clay bird in front of her. It peers up at me now but not quite the same. Pushing my grocery cart full of bags earlier, I’d past it. It had looked up at me from the pavement of the supermarket, between a cord of ready firewood and new spring plantings. There was no appeal in the gaze but there was dignity. I saw another, just like it, on a ledge, out of traffic. This one was right in the fray. Shopping carts rattled past it as it lifted it’s head. The potter had made the beak and wings closed so, not singing or in flight. The tail arched up, not jaunty or sassy but maybe alert. It felt right, better than flowers. I’d loaded my groceries, locked the car, collected the bird from the ground and returned to the store. I handed it to the cashier.
“I bought one of these and put it in my yard. A yellow one. I like it, such a good price.” I look up at her. She’s my mom’s age, with shoulder-length white hair teased out with barrettes. It looks good with the kelly green of her smock.
“I’m putting it on my mom’s grave. I think she’d have really liked it too. It’s better than flowers, always dying…” I’d mentally chastised myself for being a ghoul but then, given her age, she is likely farther than me on this journey to understanding what it means to lose people, especially people but also places and things that are so important. I couldn’t tell if I’d creeped her out but it seemed to me she double wrapped the bird reverently. I’d accepted it with equal reverence and drove here.
Now the bird is on the ground again, this time as an offering. I don’t want to think of my mom as a vengeful spirit but by putting this bird in front of her, it is what I’ve done. The way I talk to her, while I look at the plot of grass as if she were hovering just below in some Hades-like state, it really just means that I still blame her. She was my mom and I still blame her, just like most children. For the past week, I’d wept and fretted and snapped at those around me with almost uncontrollable anger. I told myself, it is hormones. I told myself, it is the end of a tough winter, full of flu and scary politics. It is my dean with his constant, hidden schemes. It is my students, making me drag them through learning like I drag my own child through all the necessary things like tooth brushing and vegetables. But this clay bird says I believe it is my mom. All this anger is the angry ghost of my mom. I was always her right hand. I was her defender and enforcer and she is so not happy but I am here to try and appease her, whether I like it or not. I know I don’t believe any of this but the evidence says I do.
‘Mom. My car is full of food. I have to go home and cook Sunday dinner for Jonnie and Dad and… Linda. She’s here now, for good. They’ve moved her into your house, mom. It happened. I can’t think about it. Jonnie is very good, by the way. He has a girlfriend.’
I am distracted again, by the whirligig. The wind had left off but picks up again, making the whirligig dance and tilt with mindless, pointless energy. I notice that just next to it, someone has also given Melvin a small solar path light with a 4th of July color scheme. It clashes violently with the baby-blue roses bouquet but together, with the purple whirligig, it makes a sort of sense. I imagine someone, even in grief, knew Melvin well enough to provide tradition, distraction and a night light. If my mom is here, she hates how tacky it is. I make a mental note to bring a night light next time, probably a bronze one or maybe brushed nickel, whichever matches marble best.