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Santa Rosa

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Relics of Santa Rosa | Jan grasps the shovel in his right hand. Raises it like a scepter and points its head toward the sky. Then he walks quietly and solemnly across his yard to the pine in the back corner. Its boughs reach over the fence into the alley and as he stands at the foot of the tree he is shrouded in cool darkness. The ground beneath him is a layer of needles and fallen cones that yields as he makes his way closer to the trunk. He looks up. The trunk is a tangled chaos of thin dry little sticks hanging from boughs stiff and brittle and grey. This pine is dying from the inside out. But the scent of pine is still strong and he breathes to reassure himself, not only of this tree’s presence but of his own presence. Reassuring himself and the old tree that shelters him and the box. See? We are still here.

Jan buried the box at the foot of this tree. In this box is all of time, all of life, all of his life in his neighbourhood, Santa Rosa. The box is buried at the foot of this old pine tree that is dying from the inside in his backyard. The contents of the box will be his offering to Christine and Fergal, this grieving young couple. His sad promise. But, there is always hope.

He steps on the shovel’s head pushing through the pine needles and then the soil underneath gives. Have I done this before? Was it real or was it a dream? Both, he tells himself. He pulls the shovel out of the ground again and pushes down shifting the head of the shovel to lift the cedar box from the ground. But the box resists in the way a sleeping creature might resist waking into sunlight and noise and the sadness of this world, resists leaving behind a cool and deep sleep in the earth under this tree.

Jan smiles at the scent of the cedar box as he lifts it out of the ground. There is the smell of pine and peat and he sees the space left under the tree which he has disturbed and now the tree’s roots look like fingers reaching out and away from the fence and toward him.

Still sheltered by the boughs of the pine, Jan sets the cedar box on the ground, brushes the dirt from the top and raises the lid. When he was little, the story of Pandora’s box haunted him. He wants to rewrite the story. Pandora would release happiness into the world instead of sorrow and horror. He would give Pandora only happiness if he could. He would change the story. Instead of sadness, she would have the chance to get back what she had wanted most. Of course, that was impossible. Just as it was impossible for him to get back what he had lost, impossible for Christine to get back the baby.

He lifts the lid of the box. He smells cedar and brandy. He had soaked clean white linen in brandy and wrapped the cake in a shroud before he put it in the box. The cake he made to divide and share with his children, sending it to them with his memories and theirs is gone. What he had made and sealed inside has become something else. What was inside the box has changed. Jan realizes with a quick intake of breath that what is now in the box is not for him—it is for Christine. He straightens, still holding the shovel, and steps away from the box. There is nothing and everything in the box. He has released objects inside the box, but they are the objects of Christine’s memories not of his. Time has transmogrified and a simple cake has turned into something bigger than either himself or Christine, but at the same time something that will always be a part of her, a part of Santa Rosa. He does not immediately recognize this collection of objects and yet some part of himself feels he knows these things or has a connection to these things. He knows they are connected to Christine. They disperse into the air, moving in cadence, a murmuration, separate yet part of a grand whole. They hover shining like stars so bright Jan can see them even in daylight.

Contributor: Wendy McGrath
Twitter: @McGrathWendy

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