THE LATE

I was four weeks late on the day of the wake.

I thought it had come then, actually. I snuck out during one of the final hymns, ducking into the toilets. I hoped his mother hadn’t seen me, didn’t think I had left to cry. Her attempts to console me made it even more obvious that we would never come to know each other better. When she had consoled me, it was as artificial as the rose stench of the funeral home.

I locked the stall and hiked my pantyhose down. Someone was in the stall next to me, coughing wetly. I listened to her cry, folding my arms and slouching forward on the toilet.

I was still late.

His mother was in the lobby, kissing a woman I would never know on the cheek. She spotted me.

“Are you alright, dear?” she asked.

“Just had to pee,” I said, nodding.

She gave me a disbelieving smile, and stroked my arm with her fingertips. She tried to care about me.

I went to the pharmacy that night and bought a pregnancy test. The cashier shoved it into a plastic bag, and then I went back into my apartment and shoved it under my bed. I couldn’t take it.

I couldn’t take it.

I didn’t know what I wanted. Any answer, any result — it would have been wrong. We barely knew each other.

We had only dated four months. Long enough for his mother, old-fashioned but kind, to have met me. But too soon for scares. Too soon for extended family gatherings. Too soon for funerals.

I saw his mother again on the day that four weeks late became five. She smiled thinly and patted my shoulder with the hand not holding the urn. The heat of the bay had left sweat stains down her blouse.

The wind was behind us and turned his ashes to smoke. Handful after handful of heart and liver and painkillers and new moons and hollow eyes — until the urn was empty. Soot stirred in the waves. Then it drifted away, and he was gone again.

My hands were stained gray. I clapped them together, brushing him from me.

“Please, dear.”

His mother did not look up from the water. I let my hands fall beside me.

I wondered if she was angry that I had found him. He had given me an apartment key soon after we had met — he was usually late, and didn’t like me waiting outside his place after dark. I had brought a book. Ragtime. I was going to read while I waited for him.

It wasn’t an accident, but it was not my place to tell her otherwise. That’s what she put in the obituary. I was also omitted from his life story. She had asked me if I wanted to be included, but I declined. I was trying to be graceful.

The evening air on the night of the ash scattering was sticky. Hair clung to my forehead when I bent down to the side of the bed that he usually slept on. It was still very much my room — but maybe once or twice, maybe just then it was ours.

The plastic bag was still under the bed, undisturbed.

The bathroom light hummed softly above my toilet. I squatted. I had rituals, I had routines — set timers for your uppers before work, timers for your downers after work. This was one more. A five minute ritual as the test rested on the counter. Five minutes in which he died — again and again — slower and slower.

But the test was negative.

Negative. I laughed.

Negative. I laughed and laughed so hard that I could not tell if I was crying.

I should have been happy really. I was too young for this sort of thing. He was too young for this sort of thing.

He was too young, really.

But how perfect — how absolutely perfect it would have been. Life from his ashes.

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