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 marycrawfordshortstory.com and her twitter handle is @maryshortstory.