In the aftermath of death, she ferries ashes across town.

She doesn’t feel a thing. The cardboard box is nothing more than a package hastily ordered via an app. Tape pristine. No fingerprints or creases. She admires the crematorium logo as she shoves the load into the car.

I don’t like this place. I’m going to die here.

The stench overwhelms her as soon as she opens the apartment door. A wingback chair blocks the entry. She shimmies around it, determined to tackle the kitchen first.

Because nobody died in the kitchen.

She focuses on the shelf of smiley faces, a credo in mugs and vases and beanie toys. Under the circumstances, their smiles are demonic, hideous, a threat.

Tears are tricksters. They distort. They reveal.

She realizes it’s only a soiled clump of sheets and pillows and towels. A deathbed shroud abandoned and preserved for over two weeks. The shape of a body. The lingering smells. That accusing voice seeps through the stark thread count.

You brought me here to die.

A sheet conceals us. Protects us. Preserves sweat and snot and skin. Leavings to haunt the living.

She picks up a card. And another. She didn’t expect to get even one, because emojis are so much more efficient. But she can’t find those emojis now.

They’re lost in the firehose of nonsense in her various newsfeeds. How many posts will stab her in the heart before she finds the snippets of comfort she needs? So she runs her fingertips over ink and paper. Solid remnants of real souls.

And she feels less alone.

The feeling doesn’t last. She spends two days cleaning out the balance of another life. Showing an upbeat face because nobody can handle a crying woman. Being strong, because everyone wants to see that you’ve dealt with your shit. They don’t want to wallow with you, especially not when they have stinking piles of their own.

In the aftermath of death, she dresses up. Paints her face. Coifs her hair. And goes out on the town.

“So you’ve been carousing around the world! Isn’t that great! You’re living the life! Great to see you!”

“Do you have the death certificate?” Bored face. “Oh yeah, sorry for your loss.”

She wishes she’d saved those soiled sheets. She wants to wrap up in them. Cocoon. Disappear. Use them as armor, because she isn’t strong enough to be who everyone expects her to be. But tomorrow morning, she will wake up. Smile. Tackle her paperwork. Do her job. Sign forms. Accept sorry for your losses. Read her cards until they fray.

And somehow, she’ll make herself be okay.

(Many thanks to Jen Bockelman for inspiring this post. I need more artists in my life. Read about her work HERE and visit her website HERE.)

NYT bestselling author NOT WITHOUT MY FATHER | speaker | dreamer | risk-taker | travel whore | turn I wish I had into I’m glad I did andrawatkins.com

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