by Robert Boucheron
An overcast sky promises rain, as Mr. Castillo walks on the sheet metal roof of my house. His footsteps sound like thunder. With an air gun, he blasts dead leaves from the gutter. They land on the grass in clumps — rotten, black, and smelling of tannin. I walk around the house and gather the clumps as if assembling a bouquet.
Rainwater pools around the house, makes the ground spongy, and breeds mosquitos. Mr. Castillo and a helper will install a foundation drain, with boots to catch the downspouts. The drain will be properly pitched and exit to a drop inlet near my bedroom.
A fine mist begins to fall. I drive to Riverview Cemetery with windshield wipers on low. I park on the lane where a few other cars are parked. I walk to the family grave plot. The stone has acquired a yellow-green stain of lichen. It stands in the shade of a hemlock tree. Tiny pine cones litter the ground and crunch underfoot. New gravestones have sprouted over the years. We have neighbors now. The mist lets up.
A dozen people stand here, middle-aged and older. We all know each other. We hug and chat quietly. Off to one side stands a young man in a gray suit, the cemetery employee. Folding chairs are set in rows. Indoor-outdoor carpet drapes a small, square hole in the ground, the way cloth drapes a surgical incision. Beside the hole is a lavender box, a miniature casket that contains my mother’s ashes. Her name was Charlotte.
We sit in the chairs, my older sister and I in the front row. She organized the affair and wrote a program, a sheet of paper folded once. On the front is a recent photograph of the deceased, who smiles in a gaudy print jacket, buck teeth under a cloud of gray hair. Downhill and beyond a border of trees, the river gleams.
We read a psalm, a prayer, and “In Praise of Limestone” by W. H. Auden. The man in the gray suit places the lavender box in the square hole. One by one, we take a carnation from the bunch he offers, place it on the box, and return to our seats. At this point, no one knows how to wrap up. Panic catches me by the throat. My eyes water, and I gulp. The moment passes.
Back at the house, the afternoon drags, the sky threatens, and my older sister and I discuss the estate. We are both executors. The money involved is significant, but not enough to matter. By five o’clock she leaves. The drain work is done, and Mr. Castillo goes home across the street.
At night, after I go to bed, the storm breaks loose. Rain pounds the sheet metal roof. Water gurgles and gloats in the aluminum gutter. It shakes the downspouts, shoots from the foundation drain, and roars in the drop inlet. It knows I am here, alone.
Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York. He worked as an architect in New York City and since 1987 in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Poydras Review, and the Saturday Evening Post. On June 23 he led a seminar called “Ignite Your Flash Fiction” at the WriterHouse cooperative in Charlottesville, Virginia.