Down to the River

The Manatee County Sheriff wore an immaculate white Stetson and a black ribbon across the star on his dark green uniform. He escorted Marvel down wooden steps to the edge of the Manatee River boardwalk where a white-gloved deputy held a shining urn containing the ashes of my father.

The deputy waited with the urn.  It flashed in the early light. The Sheriff took it and presented it to Marvel. She placed her hands on it, and their four hands held it together for a few seconds. Marvel took it and turned slowly toward the river with her eyes fixed on the shining metal, as though reading some label only she could see. She rested the urn on the guard rail. The balance seemed precarious, and my heart lurched at the thought a fumble. She gazed across the broad river, perhaps arrested by a memory formed years before on that very spot. All at once she upended the urn over the languid water. She shook it twice, quickly, gently. From up on the river bank, seven service revolvers each fired three times in unison. Marvel flinched at each shot.  The sharp reports echoed across the river. A trio of white pelicans near the far bank burst into the air and glided upstream with wingtips skimming the surface of the green-black water.  Marvel squinted against the brightness. She wore no sunglasses.  The gray remains of my father swirled in the breeze. I imagined a few particles touching her face and wondered if she felt them. Before the ashes had fully merged with the indifferent flow toward the Gulf, she turned away and returned the empty urn to the deputy. The Sheriff presented her with a folded flag and a few quiet words. A mullet jumped high and splooshed back into the river, forever safe from my father’s net.

Marvel clutched the flag to her breast and ascended the steps. The Sheriff stayed close, but her steps were sure. Her cheeks were dry. She did not look back.

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