If You Wait an Hour, There Will Be Bread Fresh Out of the Oven
Everyone has opinions on where Mama’s ashes should go.
“She liked the sea,” Uncle Tommy says. “Dump her out over Niagara Falls.”
“She liked the mountains,” Uncle Rory says. “Throw her off the top of an Adirondack.”
“Sea,” says Uncle Tommy.
“Mountain,” says Uncle Rory.
And so on, until a casserole dish breaks and there is blood on Mama’s special occasion table linens. Coraline-not-Caroline takes the urn into the kitchen after that, but no one is deterred from seeking her out and telling her what to do.
“You can let me take care of it,” Aunt Abigail says. “Some on Grandma’s grave, some on Grandpa’s, and some on your father’s. Simple as pie, girl.”
Pie is complicated. Finicky. Coraline-not-Caroline has tried her hand at pie.
“We’ll make a jewel out of it,” Cousin Orla says. “I know a guy who does that for a fair price. You can hang it round your neck, or put it in the doorway to ward off evil spirits.”
How like a noose Mama would feel, and how dark an omen in the jamb.
“Put her back in the earth,” Cousin Mick says. “She was fed; now she’s feed. Everything’s cyclical, Carolyn.”
Coraline-not-Caroline has taken out the plastic bag of ash, has hefted the surprising weight of it in her hands. Mama is dust and bone and nothing nourishing.
“At the dentist’s office, for her many years of service,” someone says.
“Underneath that old oak tree where she and George first knocked boots.”
“On the hood of her prize Ford.”
“In Hoffsheimer’s pond up on North Creek.”
“At the bingo hall, where she was happiest.”
They argue. They insult each other. They bandy about Mama’s name as if invoking her ensures a victory. Coraline-not-Caroline knows better. Coraline-not-Caroline knows where Mama belongs.
She slips away from the rising din in the living room. No one notices amid all the knowing better than her. In the kitchen she takes out all the fixings for the first thing Mama ever taught her how to bake. Coraline-not-Caroline still has the scar, pucker-pink like a sloppy first kiss, where Mama held her arm to the coils. For weeks after the accident, the house smelled of burnt bacon.
Irish soda bread. Her hands know this practiced choreography. On the counter: four cups of all-purpose flour, four tablespoons of sugar, one teaspoon baking soda, one and a half salt, half a stick of butter, a cup and three quarters buttermilk, one large egg, a teaspoon of orange zest, a cup of raisins.
There is a lot of Mama left, going by volume. Coraline-not-Caroline thought she would be made smaller by this, but she is here and heavy as ever. Coraline-not-Caroline cuts the bag open carefully. Mama is gritty, and the shards of her bones are sharp as sunlight. She smells how the smokestacks smell after the rain. Coraline-not-Caroline takes out a mixing bowl.