Weeds as high as en elephant's eye
And it looks like they're growing clear up to the sky.
"Mom?" Sam called out, crossing the terrace on this way back in from the shambles we call a garage, which houses discarded and functional bicycles, an assortment of those Razor scooters that found a much smaller following of fidèles than anyone would have supposed from their popularity 10 years ago, the lawnmower, planks for the unfinished petit balcon, two full-size refrigerators, one plugged in and in desperate need of a defrosting, two beat up but valuable leather club chairs we cannot really afford to have recovered, especially since we have learned we prefer to spend our resources trying to save our beloved animaux de compagnie, "pets", but I find that word terribly belittling of what they really are to us, the old Sony Trinitron 17" Dell monitor, all our tools and every bit of used wood removed from somewhere from which my husband cannot separate himself, along with the furnace, the oil tank, the dryer and an old washing machine that serves as a surface on which to pile more stuff.
I waited for what would follow. Were his jeans not in the dryer? Was there no bottle of Coke keeping cold in the real fridge, which is inconveniently far from the kitchen, where my husband finds it perfectly normal to have one the size of what my son will likely enjoy in his monk's (excuse me, student's) lodgings in Paris, either a 9m2 chambre de bonne, now politely and considerately referred to as a "chambre de service" in the annonces, up under the mansard zinc roof of an immeuble de standing in the 17th arrondissement near la Place des Ternes, or a sightly larger but better appointed studette, or very small studio, on the rez de chaussée, the "chaussée" being the pavement, and the "rez de chaussée" being "street level", in a drearier part of town at the edge of their cherished Marais, on a street the shops of which boast exclusively the not exclusive, but cheap garments imported and exported by their hard-working Chinese owners and destined for the Tatis and run-down markets, the better appointments including a real, but small, full bath with shower and toilet, as opposed to a Sanibroyeur in the "chamber", or the nicer option, we have since discovered we believe it to be, of a shared toilet, cleaned by the building's guardian, out on the palier, or corridor, and a separate storage space with shelves, ready to receive a small washing machine for his soiled clothes and bedding that I dream he will wash.
We should know which in about 2 hours, the first being offered, the second being decided.
"You really need to take care of the garden" was what followed. "The weeds are nearly as tall as the gate out by the garage." There was so much truth in what he said. He turned the page, ended the chapter, put the crossing on the final "t" of Baccarat, her too short life, and her death. It was time, he was telling me in his inimitable way, to get back to everything that occupied me before my life became directed toward trying to preserve hers. We lost, but the rest shouldn't go with it.
I realized I am probably depressed, but it was hidden in the business of sitting together, or he in his room and I on my sofa, laptops on our laps, scouring the real estate sites for likely studettes or chambres de service for him and communicating by exchanges of email that were chat before chat existed. The most a son pudique will allow a mother respectueuse de sa pudeur et de son indépendence.
In two hours, we will know. We criss-crossed Paris on my motorcycle, dodging traffic, cars, trucks and other deux roues. We called for more than 25, visited 5 of the 6 we intended to see, the 6th dropping off the list after we visited the 5th, which is the one for news of the decision we are waiting before accepting the other.
Yesterday, he accompanied me to pick up Baccarat's ashes, intending to go into the city to see friends after. There was hardly time to make it to the train. His plans were indefinite. He telephoned while I waited for the woman who took Baccarat a week before, with one of the vets, to get her ashes. He was by my side when she returned and handed me a bag, containing a white cardboard box. It was bigger than I expected. She placed it in my hands, and it was heavier than I had thought.
"J'espère vous revoir bientôt sous des circonstances plus heureuse," she said, my eyes starting to fill with tears.
You must remain dignified, I instructed myself.
I held her gaze. We neither of us, nor Sam, wanted all the people, suddenly elderly, apart from one young couple, waiting with their cats in travel cages to understand our business. It is the worst of the vets' and their clients' business. Her silence the week before had been from the same source. I suspected that then, and I knew it now.
The vet who had done the sonogram of Baccarat's heart that showed what turned out to be a malignant tumor had called after the weekend. To follow up. To express her sympathy. Her hope that a better outcome could have been possible. I forgave them.
We left. Sam drove, decided abruptly against taking the train into Paris, encountered traffic, and entered a parking lot that can serve as a way to get out of that traffic and onto a quieter way to his old school, or the vet. He pulled even more abruptly into an empty parking space just before the way out, and turned off the car.
"What are you doing?" I asked. I was confused.
"It's just as easy to park here and walk over to return the DVD as it is to drive there," He said. He practically spat the words out. I chose not to argue, nor to reprimand him. "I need your bank card," he commanded. I fished it out of my bag sitting next to the bag with the box containing the urn of Baccarat's ashes, and picked the box up as he strode across the parking lot.
The tape that sealed the box was white like the cardboard, and it was very carefully centered, in each direction. An envelope was taped to one end, as carefully positioned as the tape. I opened the envelope with as much care and removed the papers. It was the certificate of cremation. I returned it to the enveloped, closed it and lifted it, and set about removing the tape as carefully as it had been put there. I would replace it the same way. Inside, there was a ceramic urn, like the sort of inexpensive Delft china you can buy in any market. It was sealed with more tape, with words printed on it that said it was meant only to be removed by the owner "immediately upon receipt".
I lifted it carefully, too, but it twisted on itself, unwilling to come apart again. I tried to lift the top, expecting a seal like a jar of home-made jam or jelly, and a little resistance. I took care to remove it, pulling steadily so as not to let her ashes spill out by jolting it. The resistance was stronger than I thought; it was sealed.
I knew nothing of these things, I realized. I knew it already, but I realized it then.
The top came away with the jolt I feared, and it startled me anyway, but nothing spilled. Her ashes were inside a plastic bag, carefully closed twist-lock tie. Of course, I thought. Of course they would protect the ashes like that. I inspected the top of the urn and the lid. There was the residue of a silicone sealant that I had broken. The bag was translucent, and I could see the contents. I did not open it.
I had heard of it before, in Dave Eggers' novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; they are not ashes like what is left after a barbecue or a cigarette. They are granular, small chips. Small chips of ivory colored bone, Baccarat's bone, from the legs and spine that let her run like a wild thing across the harvested fields when she was not even one, a Christmas ribbon tied around her neck for my holiday card photo undone and trailing on the wind behind her. A shooting black ball of sheer joy. And they were gray grains and other colors like the stones on the beaches in Normandy she loved to play on. The muscles that propelled those bones across the fields and beaches, like I dreamed the other night. The only dream I had in a week of sleep encouraged by light sleeping pills.
Baccarat was running full speed toward me, like she did on those walks, like she did to her mother, running into her full force and getting a nip in return. I was nervous that she'd knock me down, but I let her come, waited for her weight and the fall, but there was none.
The only thing not in that translucent plastic bag is the spirit that moved her and ran right into me and my heart. Our hearts.
"Mom, will you keep some ashes?" Sam asked when he had strode back to the car and got in. He meant would I perhaps not scatter them all in the Moraine forest in Argentière when we go next.
"I could. I think I will find a beautiful wood box for them, if I do. Do you want some? I could divide them," I offered.
"I don't know."
We will figure all that out. My husband prefers not to lift the tape off the box and find the translucent plastic bag. He saw her in the white one, when he already hadn't wanted to. He looked because I did, because I wanted to, and he was there. He touched her, but he prefers to remember the living Baccarat who raced through our lives.
I haven't finished accompanying her in her journey in death, and neither has Sam.