While Walking: What Remains

Lately, my mind has been blank. The things that filled it, the errands to do, the phone calls to return, the decisions about what to keep and what to discard, have slowly dwindled until what's left is a soft, fluffy nothing, a space so unfilled it grows and expands and reaches further and further in every direction. 

I went out into my driveway and pulled the weeds clawing their way up through the cracks in the cement. I dislike this task but we are having company to celebrate my husband's birthday and I prefer no weeds in the cracks. 

I pull. I sweep, I go to the front lawn and rake the sunbaked leaves off the brown summer grass and onto the sidewalk or out into the street. I sweep. I rake, taking note of the topsoil washed down the gutter to my curb from a neighbor above. I sweep it up to put on the side yard where we need more dirt. 

The United States Post Office van drives by and parks in front of the neighbor’s house. The carrier handed me the mail thirty minutes ago. She isn't the regular carrier but I like her and my dog doesn't bark. 

I've been at this pulling, raking, and sweeping long enough to get warm even though it's not yet seventy degrees. Today is supposed to be ninety-five. My frown doesn't make it seem any cooler. 

The carrier walks toward me. "I forgot this package, it was too heavy to carry." She looks at me, expectantly. I realize what is in the box she holds in her hands. There is a big sticker on the side of the box, Cremated Remains. I nod and thank her. Words aren't coming to me, nothing comes to me. 

I could have picked him up. I could have carried his ashes home in my car, like I carried him to his appointments and to find a new shirt, back in the days when he didn't get car sick and when he could navigate public restrooms with ease. I opted to have him mailed to me because I didn't want to drive the forty minutes home in heavy traffic wiping my eyes and trying to pay attention. 

I hug the package close to me and carry it up the steps. I leave it on the porch that I swept off earlier this morning. The porch is clean, a good enough place to set his ashes for the next fifteen minutes. I sat there earlier with the dog, reading news on my phone, my reverie disturbed only once when a squirrel ran up to the top step and froze. Seeing me it gave a wide-eyed glance at its options, before it retreated, nut still bulging from its mouth. 

I leave the porch, look back at the box. He would approve of the sweeping and cleaning up. He liked a tidy worksite, an organized tool shed, a clean counter. From him, I learned to make a batch of cookies or a cake with one bowl, one measuring cup, and one spoon. I thought it was a game. I learned recently it was an obsession or a ritual, it would have depended on your point of view. 

Next month his ashes are bound for the country he grew up in. I'm eager to carry him to that final resting place. It’s a place he taught me to fly fish. It’s a place our family swam in the cold mountain run off, in a river that even today runs with salmon.  

I finish pulling weeds. I finish sweeping. The package waits. I carry it inside.