It could have been a lot worse. The chimney fell off the roof, a bunch of stuff got knocked off shelves, that was it. I didn’t hear the chimney fall, probably because the bricks landed on a fine old yew whose demise I regret. I don’t regret the chimney, which we never used. Heck, I didn’t even know it was an earthquake; I was out clipping the jasmine and thought I was having a spell. The ground was shimmying to beat the band. I was telling myself so this is how it starts, the attack or whatever it is that announces your life is going to be awfully different here on out, and probably not last long. Well, it won’t last long no matter what, but I was hoping, am hoping, to have at least another twenty good years.
When the shaking stopped and the car alarms joined up in a hell’s choir I figured it out.
The other thing worth mentioning is the ceramic urn holding Albert’s ashes slid off the mantle and broke on the grate of the old stove, and all of Albert’s earthy remains went down into its workings.
Albert and I talked about getting rid of that stove for 20 years, ever since we got central heating, but we never used the front room and it was easy to ignore. Now for sure I decided I would get that stove out of the house but I couldn’t put it out in the street with Albert in it. About the only thing I could think of doing was vacuuming him out, which simplified things, but didn’t solve the problem. Now I had a vacuum bag full of Albert.
Before I tell what I did, I’d like to say I am not the type of person who keeps cremains on the mantle. So much of life happens when you’re making other plans, as they say. Albert never had a will; never made his wishes known, so when he died, I made decisions on the fly. I think I dodged a bullet in that he died quick. It sounds cruel for me to say it, but he would have wished the same for himself. He didn’t like things lingering. I loved him. None of my friends could believe it. Lordy, she’s marrying a Republican. I was in my mid 40’s. He was a man, good looking enough, and he liked me. Hotcha.
That afternoon he came in the back door with a stunned expression I’d never seen before, and then he fell at my feet, and it was all over forty-eight hours later. That was earthquake number one. I had him cremated for no other reason than the day before I got 2 advertisements in the mail for crematoriums, with deals. I don’t recall ever getting a single one before. Cremation also seemed so much simpler than figuring out where to put him in the ground.
Once the ashes came home, I thought Alberta might want to take some of her father for herself. If she had wanted all of the remains, it would have solved my problem but I wouldn’t have allowed that. Alberta sees me for what I am; her stepmother, and there’s always been a struggle between us. I wish I could say it was otherwise.
Alberta wouldn’t have a thing to do with them.
So up went the urn onto the mantle and there it stayed, over a year, in the room we never used. Several times when I was gardening I thought about sprinkling the ashes around, or just spading a hole and pouring them in. That would have put a logical end to it, but I couldn’t. Every awful fight Albert and I ever had was about the garden, and so I didn’t want his memory hanging around there. Alive, all he ever wanted to do was advise and criticize. I wanted no advice and less criticism. I wanted a hand. When I hired Hector to help with the pruning and planting, he blew a gasket. He was jealous, I suppose.
“Who’s going to rebuild the porch after the wisteria pulls it down,” Albert wanted to know. Whoever it was, we both knew it wasn’t going to be Albert, who used a hammer about as often as he used a French dictionary.
Albert didn’t know beans about plants but he was right about the wisteria. It’s up over the roof, and is squeezing the beams of the porch like an anaconda. I like to think it’s bucking them up, that it’s the thing that kept the house upright during the shaking.
I see, looking back, that Hector knew about as much about gardening as Albert, at least in terms of plant behavior. Hector had some kind of thing for passion vines. He planted not one but three. There will be a heck of a plant melee here soon. That’s okay. I’ll hire a young monkey to hack it all back.
Here’s what I did: I drove down to the shore and emptied the works into the marsh. I fully expected to get arrested for polluting. There were numerous people around. A lot of dust got mixed in with Albert, and it made a cloud around me. I wondered about that cloud of minerals, whether it would act like steroids upon some bacterial colony. I wished I could have thought of another, nobler fate for Albert, but decided it was not such a bad one. Is there even another choice?