Eating the Wind

Apr 25  |  Alyssa Beatty

One week after your mother dies, you get the battered USPS package she sent you for Christmas. Nestled under a crumpled red velveteen bow and a blue-tinted fabric carnation, both reeking of her patchouli: a box of generic butterscotch candies. There’s no card; just these dollar store crossword-clue gifts. The carnation, like the one you dyed for a science experiment in second grade. The velveteen bow echoes the real velvet one hung over the fireplace at Christmas, that you weren’t allowed to touch. The candies were her favorite, never yours. You cram patchouli-infused sweets into your mouth. They dissolve into sharp shards that cut your tongue until you speak bitter perfume, but you’re still empty, and you don’t cry.

Two weeks after, the bouquet your coworkers sent drops shriveled petals on your bookshelf. You arrange half-dead flowers to dry on the fire escape. When you forget them, they blow away into the concrete courtyard below. You hadn’t spoken to your mother in seven years and forty-two days. A deep yawning pit opens in your stomach. The apple you eat is mealy and dry, the skin gummy with wax. She used to lift you up to pick sweet red apples from the tree in your front yard. You eat five more apples, but you’re still empty. You leave the cores on your windowsill, let the wind take them too. They rot on the dirty concrete, but still the tears don’t come.

Three weeks after, you receive a letter from the hospice nurse, neat handwriting on thick linen stationery with flowers pressed into it. She tells you about your mother’s last days. Just before the sedation took her, she told this nurse a story: camping with you in late fall, in a place soft and quiet with fallen pine needles. The two of you sharing tiny wild blueberries off the bush. It was her favorite memory, the nurse writes. You have no recollection of this place, this trip. You eat grocery store blueberry pie straight from the tin, cramming the bites in with a serving spoon, the only clean utensil you have left. The over-sweet filling coats your teeth like elementary school paste. You scrape the thin aluminum bottom of the pan. The oversized spoon makes your hand look small, like a child’s. You force yourself to picture her fingers, thin and strong, intertwined with yours. It hurts, but you don’t cry.

Four weeks after, you get into an argument with your aunt. She doesn’t drive down to give you the cardboard box of ashes. You go to the beach where your mother wanted to be scattered. You sit on the sand and eat: wrinkled hot dogs, french fries tacky with stale oil, gritty with sand from your fingers. Impossibly colored saltwater taffy. Vacation food. It’s a relief your aunt is taking care of everything. It would have been a hassle, you can’t just dump human remains next to some kid’s sandcastle, you have to hire a boat to take you offshore. Some places give you flowers to throw on the water, for an additional charge you couldn’t afford. Your mother would have liked that, and wouldn’t have considered the burden of the cost.

You open a bag of cotton candy, tearing the thin plastic from the side in your need. It’s sweet and light and tastes of regret. It’s not enough, it’s like eating air, so you open your mouth wide to the wind. You swallow and gulp and the wind roars into you. It tastes of the salt of your tears. All the empty spaces in you, finally, fill up.

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