Mary Crawford ~ Memento Mori

My lit­tle sis­ter heard about the monks who slept in coffins the bet­ter to under­stand life so she asked my broth­er to make her one. He took some lum­ber from a half-fin­ished house down the street and in our garage instruct­ed my sis­ter in the use of the jig­saw, plan­er and orbital sander. Between the two they built a cof­fin. In home ec she sewed a lin­ing, a silky-smooth blue satin, a col­or only a lit­tle lighter than the Atlantic Ocean lying just east of our town. My sib­lings drove to Home Depot and select­ed a stain: Tuscan Walnut Number 9. On the bot­tom of the cof­fin my broth­er set down a soft bed of foam and when it was fin­ished they lugged the cof­fin up the stairs to our room and laid it on the mat­tress. The late after­noon sun stream­ing through the win­dows bathed the wood­en box in an oth­er­world­ly light. I climbed in for a test ride. At once my broth­er slammed down the lid and sat on it. The two of them were dead qui­et. One time I heard a lit­tle snort. First I was shocked, then I was mad and once I under­stood my help­less­ness, I began to cry. In that lit­tle por­tion of space, my screams were amplified.

Afterwards I went to the kitchen where my moth­er was rolling out pas­ta dough. My knees were sore where they had bumped against the cof­fin lid. I told my moth­er I would pre­fer to be cre­mat­ed. She rolled out the dough on a large floured board and agreed she too would like to be cre­mat­ed. She pushed the rolling pin, her wed­ding ring wink­ing, and asked, “Have you heard of the Zoroastrians? After they die, birds of prey devour their flesh.”

Birds of prey. I decid­ed I would like that too. She told me that, far from city life, on sun­ny hill­tops, the Zoroastrians built round tow­ers. On top of these struc­tures their dead were arranged in three con­cen­tric cir­cles: first men, then women, and, then, in the small­est cir­cle, all chil­dren. Over time, bleached bone frag­ments were all that remained.

The Coast Guard nev­er found my mother’s body. One morn­ing she took a sail boat ride with a man who lived down the street. A nasty squall came up off Gloucester. We didn’t even know she knew the man down the street though appar­ent­ly she knew him quite well.

My father was shocked – well we were all shocked yet ten months lat­er he mar­ried the woman who dished out the mashed pota­toes and gravy in the high school cafe­te­ria. Over time she revealed she was a sweet kind woman and I grew to like her but I could not love her the way that I loved my mom.

My moth­er and her Zoroastrians. Always in her mind these odd facts swum although she might have found her sat­is­fac­tion clos­er to home. It makes me afraid I am too much like her.


Mary Crawford has pub­lished short sto­ries in Salamander and Paper Darts.  Her web­site is and her twit­ter han­dle is @maryshortstory.