Mary sat on the edge of the bed. She’d been putting on her shoes, looking forward to her morning run. Tom had been searching for something; he’d pulled out all the drawers in the bedroom. Now he was standing in front of her, holding a tiny plastic bag filled with fine grey powder. His one eyebrow was raised in an expression of inquisitiveness. He said nothing, just stood there waiting for her explanation.
Mary’s eyes slowly shifted from Tom’s face to the bag and back again. She wondered exactly how to explain. She knew he loved her. She hoped he wouldn’t judge her too harshly.
She stared pointedly at her feat for a few minutes before looking back into Tom’s vibrant green eyes.
“It’s a long story” she said.
He didn’t speak, but sat down beside her on the edge of the bed, placed his hand gently on her knee, and waited, patiently. Tom wasn’t a big talker. Mary usually talked enough for both of them—and maybe a few additional people.
Several minutes passed in silence before she began.
“You remember I told you about my Grandfather?”
Tom looked puzzled but said nothing, just nodded.
Mary had adored her grandfather. He and her grandmother had had a farm and Mary and her brother, Sam, had spent their summers there when they were young, before her grandfather had died and her grandmother had moved into the condo. They were her fondest childhood memories. Her parents had both worked full time and life at home was always a little chaotic. On her grandparents farm, life slowed down. She remembered how the warm, smooth soil had felt on her hands when they dug potatoes together and how her grandmother had made them trays, like old time movie theatre cigarette girls wore, to put around their necks so they would have two hands free to pick raspberries and gooseberries. They say that your olfactory senses are one of the strongest memory triggers. That was certainly true for Mary. Hardware stores and pig feed were two of her favourites smells.
Every summer morning as the sun rose she’d slip her feet into her rubber boots, pull one of Pop Pop’s big flannel shirts, with the sleeves all rolled up, over her little summer nightgown and together they’d head out to the barn to prepare the feed for the animals. Early morning with its damp chill in the air was still her favourite time of day. When their chores were done, they would head back to the kitchen where Grams would have toast and eggs waiting for them.
After breakfast they would spend an hour or so at the table rolling cigarettes and drinking tea. When she’d started helping him roll his daily supply she wasn’t very good at it, but in her defence she had only been four. Her’s were all loose and mainly paper with tobacco falling out the ends. He would smoke them anyway and gave her pointers on how to improve her rolling technique. By the time she was six, she was an expert, and they’d sit together chatting, drinking tea, and doing the important work of rolling his daily supply.
She thought about him now, his warm smile and easy laugh. He had died when she was ten. She missed him. She wondered if he’d be proud of the person she’d grown to be.
Mary looked back at Tom and began.
“When my Grandfather died, after the service, he was cremated” She said.
Tom nodded again, glancing down at the bag in his hand, and waited for her to continue.
“Mom kept the urn on the shelf beside the fireplace for a few months before she and Grams sprinkled them in the river where he used to fish.”
Tom was clearly confused about where this story was going but said nothing.
“Sam pried the lid off so we could see the ashes. They were in a plastic bag, with a twist tie around them, inside the urn.”
Tom was beginning to see where this was headed.
“One night I got up and quietly padded downstairs in my jammies and socks. I went into my Dads study and found one of the little baggies he used for his coins.”
Tom held up the little bag in his hand and gave it a gentle shake.
“I just had to have some to keep, you know?” Mary whispered.
Tom carefully placed the tiny bag in Mary’s hand and leaned in close.
“You’re such a weirdo” he said, kissing her gently on the cheek, the corners of his mouth lifting in a smile as he rose from the bed and walked from the room whistling quietly to himself.
Mary remained seated on the bed for a while thinking about her Grandfather.
Eventually she rose and headed out into the early morning sunshine to run. She was glad to have shared her story with Tom. Until that day, she had never told a single soul.
I am less photogenic than my dog.