Father died at sea, like most of the men on the island. We didn’t hold a funeral. Ma came with the ashes one Sunday morning and we skipped church, the three of us plus Ma’s friend Fiona, to drive out to the docks. It was quiet, the fishermen still out on the water, or else having a lie-in. I thought how strange it was, the quiet. Normally there’s such a bustle; clanging of metal and tugging of rigging and bumping of sterns and shouting. You could only hear the sea, its constant, sheet-like rustle, the evil cries of gulls overhead. I remember looking out across the purple water, its shivers of grey, the mounds in the distance that formed the archipelago. I thought: he’s on one of those islands. Daddy’s out there. He’s coming home some day. Ma said: Do you want to do the ashes? I frowned. I didn’t know what she meant. She was holding out this wee tupperware tub so’s you could see what was inside. It looked like flakes of rust, or mouldy cereal. I didn’t want to touch it. She seemed to understand; I guess she was disappointed. Fiona, gem that she always is, rubbed me on the shoulder; held my hand as Ma scattered the ashes. I was worried they were going to blow back in all our faces – wee Tyler crying with impatience, Johnny playing with the zip of his jacket – but somehow the wind caught him and the ashes were swept up in this swirling breeze which disappeared somewhere across the sea. We stood there for ages afterwards. I kept watching for boats, because I couldn’t stand just being there all sad watching the waves take my father away. I was still thinking: He’s out there. Maybe they had him on a boat; it was a mixup, the wrong body. Maybe they burned a deer and said it was him. It was quite possible. They’d done it before, to trick the grieving families into believing there was a body. Most of them were forever lost at sea. We’d done it in school, the fishermen’s stories. Fiona must’ve noticed I was crying then, because she gave me a bunch of tissues and pressed my face into her soft belly, itchy with a thick woollen jumper. I wasn’t really crying; it was the way the wind stung my eyes. I felt something hard and sad inside of me, like a thing I couldn’t lodge from my chest – like when you have a bad cold and it all builds up. It was just this…object. I guess I carried it around for a long time. In the car back home, Fiona drove while Ma kept her head out the window, the wind blowing back her greasy hair. Johnny played his Game Boy while Tyler watched, scrabbling for a shot. I tried to breathe, but my chest was so sore. I would write it down on Monday: he’s still out there. The teacher would give me a star, and I’d think of him out there at night sometimes, all those ashes up-scattered to the one particular silver-glinting star. I wish you could peel it off from the sky, the way you could with the stickers in your jotter.
Maria Sledmere is currently studying for an MLitt in Modernities at the University of Glasgow, and is otherwise an assistant editor for SPAMzine and part-time restaurant supervisor, a job which provides her with many ideas for strange stories. She regularly writes music reviews for RaveChild Glasgow and has had work recently accepted by publications including From Glasgow to Saturn, DataBleed, Robida and Germ magazine. When not obsessing over the literature of Tom McCarthy she may be found painting, making mixtapes or writing about everything from Dark Ecology, Derrida to Lana Del Rey at http://musingsbymaria.wordpress.com.