I pay for his ashes with a check that will later bounce; I know it will bounce just as you know that you will surely die someday no matter what you do to prevent it.
But still, just for show, I write the amount in the ledger of my checkbook right there at the funeral home in front of the man, as if I really have a thousand dollars in my checking account. My hand is shaking and I think it’s because the undertaker is watching my hands as I write and he is too young to be an undertaker. I think about sliding my wedding band off right then and there and let him know as a widow I am available. But I don’t. I am quivering because he has on a nice blue suit that almost shines like silk and he has blue eyes and a pointed chin that tears right through me and makes my knees wobble even though he just had my husband’s body burned.
The undertaker takes my check and hands me Bradley’s ashes over the counter as if I was buying nothing more than a dozen donuts.
He thanks me for my business and that’s all there is to it. I drive home in my 1996 Dodge Caravan. It’s on its second transmission and first motor with almost 200,000 miles. Its paint is peeling giving it a sort of mottled look and driving it always makes me feel like I’m riding a palomino horse that is arthritic and dying. I drive with the urn on my lap and it is cold between my legs and that is just par for the course.
I come home and Bradley’s mother and step-dad are there along with a minister his mom found to help us with our grief and to be there to talk to the kids who sit in front of the TV playing with their X-Boxes that I bought them with another bad check the day after their father hung himself in the bathroom with a note taped to his chest. My seven year old and youngest was the one to find him, six o’clock on a school morning while barging in to the bathroom with the urgency of a full bladder when he saw his father’s puffy body swinging in a dirty t-shirt and boxer shorts, his face that needed a shave purple and still.
My son did pee right there in his pajama pants and I had two messes to clean up.
I walk into the living room of my house which is built on a slab and it has two bedrooms and aluminum siding and not much space at all. The living room is crowded and the minister walks up to me and hugs me and Bradley’s mother takes the urn out of my hands and starts to cry even though she is glaring at me with hatred in her eyes.
She blamed me for this. I could tell by her voice when I called her to tell her that her thirty-seven year old son had hung himself because he no longer felt like a man. He had been laid off from his construction job just a few months before. Bradley was a hell of a carpenter, the kind of man who could build a house out of a handful of dust and discarded nails.
But who wants a house built these days?
No one in St. Louis County that’s for sure or anywhere else in the country from what I hear on the TV.
But that wasn’t Bradley’s only problem. I didn’t tell his mother or anyone else about this but his stuff stopped working the day his first unemployment check came in. I don’t want to get too detailed here, but we made love at least three times a week. We made it a point. I made it a point because it kept us close all those years, especially during all those rough spots in marriages that pop up like rain clouds every now and again.
We weren’t always friends but we were always lovers.
He lost his job and his equipment stopped working and we didn’t have enough money to get it fixed. Nothing for Viagra or therapy sessions because unemployment checks barely pay for groceries let alone car insurance or clothes for two young boys.
But we still kept trying, trying to make love three times a week even the night before he died and that’s what did it. He was kissing on me and rubbing me and he climbed on top of me and tried to make it work. He tried so hard that he broke into a sweat and his face was creased and frustrated like a piece of paper crumpled into a ball and then unfolded.
He was trying so hard and his face looked so silly and his sweat was dripping on top of me, on my chest and stomach and it was all so ridiculous I started to laugh and said, Baby, its okay.
But it wasn’t okay. He jumped out of bed and went out into the living room and turned on the TV and I fell asleep and looking back I should have gone out and talked to him. I should’ve told him that we’d be alright. Things would get back to normal. He’d start building and loving again and that his boys loved him no matter what, no matter that he’d gotten moody and irritable since losing his job, yelling at the boys to be quiet just as soon as they got home from school and flopped their shoes off by the side door.
The minister hugs me a little longer than I think a strange man should. I am not an ugly woman and I am always suspicious of men’s motives when they look me up and down like this minister does and today I am wearing a flowery dress because it is spring and I do look good in it, the way it hugs my chest and hangs off my hips and stops just above my knees.
I guess I should be wearing black but I don’t have a black dress and is a cremation the same as a funeral?
I gently push the minister away and I take a look at him, a middle-aged man with a potbelly and a ponytail like some stubborn hippy preacher. I ask my uninvited guests if they would like something to drink. I tell them we have milk, Diet Pepsi and a few cans of Milwaukee’s Best Light and that does choke me up a little bit because that beer was Bradley’s favorite drink because of the price and not the taste. I think about his presence in the house, what does think if he’s watching me right now, if he’s in heaven or hell and if he would mind that I’m offering up his beer.
Did Bradley have life insurance? his mother blurts out after handing me his ashes back and I can tell she is genuinely grieving as the tears are ruining her mascara and she looks like a clown in polyester, her face a mess and her dyed and over treated hair red and curly.
He had something from the union, I say.
Well, good, that oughta help, you know pay for all this, his step-dad says waving his arms as if he is attending some grand reception. I know he’s relieved about the prospect of life insurance because that means I won’t ask him or his wife for help, which I would never do anyway. I will keep on writing bad checks for everything, groceries and cable television until my checkbook runs dry, until I am arrested for fraud or until another man comes along to save my children and me.
Well, I say, his life insurance was null and void because of the suicide and this I found out the day after he died, when I called the insurance company and they said they were sorry and pretty much hung up on me. Part of Bradley’s note mentioned his policy from the union, how he hoped his passing would give the family some sense of financial relief.
There was no relief. There is no relief.
A silence follows. Bradley’s mother says she would like a Diet Pepsi, perhaps. The minister says he will take a beer if I have any to spare. I get up from the couch where I have been sitting between my two boys and their eyes haven’t been on anything except their X-Box games. I walk into the kitchen carrying Bradley’s ashes under my arm and I grab the drinks including a beer for myself.
The minister says thank you and Bradley’s mother takes the can out of my hand without looking at me, as if she’s entitled to have me wait on her.
The minister asks me if there is anything I want to talk about, and if I have a plan for Bradley’s ashes?
I point to my living room, to the low ceiling and close walls, to the mismatched furniture and large screen TV. It’s not like I have mantle, I say.
True, he says, but that’s not important. You could maybe spread his ashes at one of his favorite places, maybe a special place that the two of you shared, a park or maybe a scenic overlook or was he a sports fan? Maybe you could ask the Vikings if you can spread his ashes over the field...
I think about the minister’s suggestion. Bradley wasn’t a sports fan but he did like to go fishing. I don’t know if he had a favorite fishing spot because I never went with him. But I do say out loud that Bradley was a great lover. I say that he was good in bed and this makes everyone in the room wince except for my boys as their eyes and faces are as empty as my checking account.
I say that we really had no special places, except for maybe the bedroom and that’s what I do with the ashes. I stand up and ask everyone to follow me into my bedroom. The bed is still unmade and some of Bradley’s dirty clothes are still on the floor, his last pair of jeans with the belt still looped through the waistband, his boxer shorts and socks still in the legs and seat.
I open up the urn and dump the ashes on the bed and say this is the place, when you get right down to it, where Bradley lived and died.