by Linda Norlander
Wasn’t he the one who had insisted they visit the family plot where Great Aunt Hester and Uncle Edgar rested in peace? On Halloween? Hadn’t he nattered on about it so long her ears hurt? So here they were, on their way and lost in the middle of nowhere.
The grating sound of a distant chainsaw rose and then faded away. At least someone was alive around here amid the scraggly woods and fallow fields. She sat, not talking, not looking at him and wondered—which way? Was it through the woods or up the brown and dying hills? Two roads and no map.
Three crows landed on the telephone wire bordering the highway. Crows were smart, smart in a way that humans were not. Maybe if she thought hard enough, they would read her mind and tell her which road to take.
The crows disappeared. She chose the road into the scrubby woods where the trees had shed their leaves and the empty, twisted branches were black etchings against the foamy sky. A faded wooden sign with an arrow pointed to a gravel road. She couldn’t read the writing on the sign but thought it looked familiar.
She turned onto the gravel road. It was hardly more than a track with weeds growing up in the middle. She pictured the cemetery just beyond the next rise. But when she reached the top of the road, it angled down and to the left. Maybe the cemetery was after the curve. Should she continue on this bumpy rutted track or turn around?
Rolling down the window, she smelled the damp and decaying leaves. A slight breeze kissed her face. Oh, that was nice—the scent of winter to come. The moment ended quickly, however, when four more crows landed on a branch ahead of her.
She tapped the horn and the crows rose as one, flying up into the sky and forming a giant vee. They would show her the way.
The open window let in a cool mist. She touched the button to roll down the window on his side, then changed her mind. Lost in sickly woods with the sun setting, she didn’t feel like taking care of him. She’d done the caring for too long—feeding him, cleaning up after him—no, he didn’t need the cool mist.
She peered over at him for help, but he remained silent. He used to be the one to forge ahead. But she was the driver today. He could stay silent for all she cared. She took a deep breath, almost a gasp, and gripped the wheel so hard her fingers ached. In the woods, a crow cawed.
The path rose sharply. The mighty Cadillac’s rear slued back and forth as she pressed hard on the gas. The speedometer hovered at forty than swung over to fifty and fifty-five. The suspension screamed as she urged the car on.
The speedometer passed sixty, but what caught her eye in that second was the gas gauge. The needle of the gas gauge that should never go below half-full suddenly fell, and the red warning light blinked at her. Oh god, the gas tank was empty, and she was lost.
The car hit a deep rut throwing her forward. The Cadillac that had sat for eons rusting out on concrete blocks in the decaying old barn almost stopped in time. Almost. Instead, it flew up, floated then slammed into the ground, careening down the hill. The world caved in on her.
When she opened her eyes, she was still in the car, buckled up with a lap belt, the same one she’d buckled years ago when they first bought the car. She felt light and airy as if the crash had rid her of the great weight of her body. He lay in the seat beside her, tipped over.
Crows were everywhere, perched on fence posts and on electric wires and headstones. At last, they had arrived at the family plot.
She stepped out of the car, nimble on her feet like a young woman. At the passenger door she took him out, his silent essence encased in a green urn.
With the crows watching she opened the cap to free him. The gray ashes and grit that he had become spilled onto the dewy grass of the family plot.
A woman in an ivory dress emerged from the woods. This must be Great Aunt Hester. Then Uncle Edgar joined her. More people appeared. Some came from behind the graves, some walked out of the little gray mausoleum.
She wasn’t afraid. The gas tank on the old Cadillac was full and he was at her feet, dust on her shoes. A crow landed on the hood of the car beckoning her. It was time to go.