by Mark Allan Gunnells
Abagail moved slowly and silently through the dark rooms. She’d never been in the Wood mortuary before. Her family had always used Living Waters because they understood the rites and customs for Jewish funerals. Abagail would never have guessed the first time she would step foot in the Wood would be after midnight, after she’d broken in through a back window.
Of course, she could have come tomorrow for Emmet’s service, but she would be a stranger to everyone and there may be uncomfortable questions about how she had known Emmet. She could make something up, say they were acquaintances from the gym, but what if some of the other people there knew him from the gym? She couldn’t exactly tell people that she had been Emmet’s secret lover for the past year and a half. No one in his life knew anything about Abagail, and no one in her life knew about Emmet.
So she had to do all her grieving in private, behind closed doors.
Of course, she had no one to blame but herself. Emmet would have been happy to tell everyone, but Abagail had been afraid. Afraid of what her family would think of her being with a man who wasn’t Jewish. Ridiculous, she was a grown woman who had always considered herself more of a cultural Jew than a practicing one, and yet she had let that stand in the way of embracing the healthiest relationship she’d ever had.
And now it was too late.
She stumbled around the mortuary in the dark, wishing she could turn on a light but not wanting to risk it being seen from the street. It took her almost half an hour to find the stairs that led down to what she assumed would be the embalming room if this place was set up anything like Living Waters.
The utter unrelenting dark she found herself in at the bottom of the stairs told her there were no windows here so she felt along the walls until she found a light switched and flipped on a bank of harsh overhead fluorescents. She had braced herself for the possibility of seeing bodies laid out, but of course they wouldn’t leave them out overnight. They were probably stored away in an industrial freezer somewhere. There were cold metal tables next to the embalming equipment. She had watched enough Six Feet Under to at least recognize some of it. Luckily, unlike the show, the Wood Mortuary was not a family business where the family actually lived on the property.
It took her only fifteen minutes this time to find the closet that housed what she was looking for. On one side was a shelving unit that contained a variety of different urns, and on the other shelving that was mostly empty but for a few small square boxes with names on the front.
Cremains. That was what she believed they were called. The ashes of a person who had been cremated.
Like Emmet had been cremated.
Tomorrow his family and friends would have a little ceremony then take his ashes away, sprinkling them in the ocean or off a mountain or in the forest. Wherever they thought would be special to him. A ceremonial goodbye that might help them move on because they got to do it in public, acknowledge what he meant to them, not have to live with the guilt of being too ashamed to really be with him when they’d had the chance.
She quickly scanned the labels on the boxes, and Emmet’s was the second name she found. She took the box and held it close to her chest, as if she could hold on to him in death as she had never done in life. She thought about the last time she’d seen him. He’d spent the night at her house then got up the next morning to get ready to go to a family reunion. He’d asked her to come along, to meet his family, and she’d refused. Then he’d gone off and had a heart-attack in the midst of his clan.
She’d never get the chance to truly say goodbye. She’d never again hear anyone call her “Gail.” Her family all called her Abby, but Emmet had always insisted on “Gail.” And now that was gone.
Still clutching the box, she quickly left the mortuary.
It had rained earlier in the day. Whenever it rained, her backyard turned into a muddy swamp. She walked out into it in her bare feet, the sticky mud squishing between her toes. It actually felt cool and she liked the way the soft ground tugged at her feet with each step. In the middle of the yard, shielded on one side by the house and the other by the large privacy fence, she dropped down to her knees, heedless of the filth splashing up all over her. She was about to get filthier.
She set the large twelve quart stock pot she’d brought with her to the side, placing the box with Emmet’s ashes next to it. She started scooping up large handfuls of mud and depositing them in the pot until it was halfway full. Then she tore open the box and the bag inside, working quickly so she wouldn’t have time to change her mind, then dumped the contents into the pot as well.
Closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths, she stuck her hands into the pot and began kneading the ashes into the mud, like kneading breadcrumbs into ground beef when making meatloaf. She did this for several minutes until the ashes were thoroughly incorporated into the mud.
Then she dumped the mess out onto her lap and began shaping and forming it with her hands. She was no sculptor so the form was crude, like a child’s stick figure, but she thought it would at least be recognizable as the shape of a man. Two legs, a torso, two arms, a round blob of a head. Even some small bits between the legs.
As she worked, she thought about how insane this was. Yes, her grandmother on her father’s side had told tales of Jewish magic and golems, but they were surely just that. Tales. Stories. Myths. Yet a couple hours of Googling had provided her with a wealth of information on the practice. Still, the information was in fact presented as myth.
But grief will make you do funny things, she thought as she used her fingernail to carve the word “Emet” into the form’s head. The Hebrew word for truth. She then bowed her head and said a prayer, utilizing words from the Sefer Yetzirah, ending not with “Amen” but “Avra K’davra.” I create as I speak.
The form was already hardening and she laid it in front of her, thinking that if by some insane miracle this actually worked, it still wouldn’t be Emmet. Not really, not fully.
But maybe it would be close enough.
She closed her eyes and waited. After a few minutes, she heard a soft soughing breath. Could have been the wind, but in the sound she thought she detected a single word.