My mother and I stare into the open box on the bed.
"Yes." I say.
"She shipped his ashes in a coffee maker." my Mom states.
"Yes" I grin "Yes she did."
To be accurate- my stepmother shipped some of my dad's ashes in a French press barely held shut by scotch tape, but quite a lot of him had sifted out of the poorly sealed lid and collected in the bottom of the box by the time it got here. She threw in some Christmas tinsel to make it festive.
I stick my head out of the doorway into the room full of people where his memorial is being held and hiss
"Coco, come in here. Right now."
My aunts wander in with her just to see what's going on.
"Really?" Aunt Sherry booms when she sees it-big voice, big heart, big laugh. She turns to her sister. "Teensy do you still know any of those Jacksboro highway boys we used to run around with?"
Teensy is punching one fist into the other open palm.
"I do" she looks me dead in the eye. "Let me tell you something Sunny-If you want me to I can send someone up there to break her kneecaps. I'm not joking."
I put my hand on her back in appreciation, feeling the current of volatile brilliance that seems to run through her body. Aunt Sherry is a thunderstorm, Aunt Teensy is a live electrical wire shooting sparks in the street.
"Look there's some other stuff here at the bottom."
My Mom is digging in the tinsel. She pulls out a black velcro Batman wallet dusted with light grey ashes-the kind an adolescent boy would buy for 4.99 at Target. She blows on it without thinking.
"Oops" she looks quickly at me, to see if her casual treatment of my Dad has upset me.
"It's fine. He thinks this is hilarious" I tell her.
"You can bet your ass she didn't leave any cash in that wallet" says Sherry drily.
"That's not even his wallet!" Teensy is pacing, stopping to point an accusatory finger at the wallet every now and then "His wallet was leather-Remember Sherry? It smelled like that fucking patchouli he wore."
We open it and find a silver dollar, his bus pass and a coupon for a free haircut at Shavers.
There is also a card featuring a ghostly unicorn grazing on some grass while being caressed by a maiden under a full moon. The large, flowery script inside it reads-
Your father wanted you to have this fine coffee maker after he died. It was brought here all the way from France. I went ahead and threw some ashes in there with a piece of scotch tape. You're welcome.
It was always important to him that you have coffee to drink in the morning, and although he wanted to give you more- a cup, or some sugar-this was all he could do. I hope it helps.
Every few minutes one of us will start laughing again and then we all go off.
What my stepmother intended to be felt as "Fuck You" has ended up being a gift.
"I could not make up better shit to write about!" Someone is playing Frank Zappa in the big room so I begin to dance a little as I pour his ashes onto a paper plate and scrape them into a pile with a credit card. "She is so awesome." I can't get over it.
My cousin Jenny brings in some ziploc baggies so we can divvy up his ashes before the impromptu ceremony about to be held in her backyard.
Everyone is catching each others eyes in the mirror as we work.
It's this look-
We are sharing this thing that is happening right now
We all love him
We are all so sad
but even though we mourn his death, we celebrate his life more.
We're only crying for ourselves.
We are laughing and dancing for him.
Or maybe that was just what I was thinking.
"Don't let them wear black and sad-sack it around in some church when I go" he told me once "I want everyone to dance on my grave."
"So" I use the card to form a row of lines across the plate like we used to do with the cocaine. "Rick wanted to take him on a fishing trip Who else?"
"Can I have some to make a cactus terrarium with?" Teensy asks.
I see my mother frowning at the lines on the plate, figuring out the joke.
"Sunny stop that-it isn't funny," she says, trying not to smile.
I ignore her. "My Dad wants you to stop bugging me. He said to tell you to lighten up."
My mother shoots a glance at Coco.
"How long do you think we'll be hearing that?" she asks drily.
Coco sighs. "A long time, Dee."
After the sun sets we form a circle around a candle in the backyard. Someone is playing 'Brokedown Palace' on their iPhone.
We pass around the French press, which actually turns out to be exactly what we need to pass the container in the dark because it has a handle, each of us sprinkling some ashes around the flame.
The glass coffeemaker passes from Teensy
"Remember the time he caught that poisonous snake with his bare hands and threw it in a bucket?"
-to her husband Rick
"I love you brother"
-to my cousin Jenny
"When I was small he talked to me like what I had to say was important"
-to my Mother, who once carried his child
-to Aunt Sherry, who turned to me smiling with tears running down her face
"I loved your father. You look just like him"
-to her husband,
"He was my best friend"
"You can go on now Dad. I'm okay."
and finally to Ruby, who has been skipping around the candle inside our circle.
"Goodbye, Max!" she says, blowing the ashes off her fingers like a kiss, extinguishing the candle and leaving us holding hands in the dark.