Your son is afraid. He dreamt that you were sitting next to him and that you were old.
He’s more fragile than he wants to be. His hair makes a mess of his head and I do not know if this is apathy or if it is style. His skin looks older now than when he was a boy. Only natural, but how strange that a child once small enough to be held is now old enough for ruin.
He is old enough too to have had a chance at love. I can imagine whole lives for him.
He showed up with only a few cardboard boxes. It had been years, but I knew him. When I set out the dishes, my hands were not steady, like they were not part of the rest of me. I hate how typical I have become.
He does not talk much, your son, and I am not much of a prodder. Your expressions are his, but I never could read you either.
The house is much the same. He does not remember it, but I remember him before his father took him away. I could tell that he was near just from the fuss by my legs, movement small enough to be a child.
I have a quilt on my bed now. You know I always dreamt of the country.
You did not enjoy receiving flowers, so on our visits we only tend the grass, though now and then we leave you something simple and slight, an aster or a daisy—flowers, yes, but only barely.
We have no photograph of you. How you hated to have your picture taken. You have delegated to us the responsibility of your memory. There is hardly anything left of your face.
I am to him, I think, the closest thing to a mother.
I do not think I’ve got the nag quite right.
Your son and I talk about you sometimes. He asks about you. I do my best, but it is my own life I end up telling. How so many of my shirts were my husband’s shirts and that they too have faded.
I find hair in the shower drain. It has been years since it held anything but my own gray.
He says you show up in the mirror sometimes. I picture him shaving, his own face ghostly.
I imagine that I too have caught glimpses, but that is just for fun, I miss you. That’s the thing of ghost stories. The scares are for the children, but the hope—
We do not know which customs to follow, so we try each in turn. The stacking of stones, the sweeping of the grave. We take off our shoes, stand in the proper place, face the correct way. Will it be decades or years before it is you beneath our feet, catching in the cracks of our skin?
Around you, stone angels weep and spread their wings. These are not the angels we know from paintings or religion. Their faces are clouded, cracked, as if the weather can touch them. They watch over other graves, but when we leave, we feel their gaze upon us.
Mariella, so many people do not even know that you existed. I can count millions. How many more chances you have to be discovered than to be forgotten.
It was years ago, but it was today, and I am lying close to you, your son sitting nearby.
I have been writing this on odds and ends—receipts, corners of old envelopes. Perhaps this is what I will leave instead of flowers: slips of your son, small pieces of me. The statues seem closer now. They look as though they know what could have been and would feed upon what wasn’t. As though the rounded wear of their stone is hiding something sharp. I know what angels are, all viscera and starlight, and these are not they. But I feel these too, these so-called angels. I look into their uncarved eyes and cannot look away.