“Under this dark sycamore”

It is sometime after midnight, and there is a man driving down a deserted Texas two-lane highway. There’s an atlas on the passenger seat, closed: he still knows where he is, roughly, and his goal at the moment is to get lost.

He drives on into the night, making turns at random, changing roads on impulse, avoiding major highways and towns whose names he recognizes. By three o’clock in the morning, he’s lost enough that he’s not sure he could narrow down what quadrant of the state he’s in—which is lost enough for his purpose.

There is a pale predawn light in the sky when he pulls off the road—another two-lane farm road with another four-digit number as a name—and onto the strip of gravel that functions as a shoulder. He opens the trunk, takes out a shovel and a metal lock-box of the sort one sees at bake sales and charity car washes—and walks perhaps a hundred yards away from the road, into a thicket of trees he can’t quite identify.

The dirt is dark, moist, easy to dig: he soon has a hole several feet deep. He picks up the box; there is a moment of hesitation. It passes, and he puts the box into the ground, covers it with dirt, walks back to his car, and drives away.

It is now somewhere in the neighborhood of six in the morning; he wanders the highways for another hour, not wanting to associate the grove of trees with a town too near. Somewhat after seven, he stops at a small-town diner, quietly eats a greasy breakfast, drinks several cups of bad coffee, and finds himself in the atlas—a process which takes several minutes. He plots a course back to the interstate, and thence home: a trip of several hours, in his estimation.

It is late morning when he arrives at home, but his children are still in their pajamas, eating breakfast. The oldest has made waffles. There is a moment of silence when he walks in, a hesitation, an unspoken thing with them in the room. Then the youngest asks: “Where did you leave Mom?”

“I don’t know,” the man answers; “that was the point, remember? Not knowing.”

That was the point, yes: the family had no real connection to the places where their relatives were buried, couldn’t even name cemeteries or towns; no real connection to the place they were living now, no plans to stay there longer than necessary. His wife’s ashes would be lost to them just as much in a cemetery with a headstone as in a grove of trees off a farm-to-market road somewhere in the big middle of Texas with nothing recognizable to mark the spot.

It didn’t make sense to bury her at all, really, since she was ashes, but the man didn’t want to scatter her, to let go of her in the absolute and final way that scattering requires.

It was a decision he would come to regret.


2 Comments on ““Under this dark sycamore””

  1. This didn’t turn out like I expected, and I love that. A beautiful piece.

    • hgoldsmith says:

      Thanks. The ‘twist’ arose organically, which was good, because I don’t think I could have made it work otherwise.

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