The misshapen amber ooze inside the stained tissue paper crackles to the counter top in a spray of needles and dried gum. It’s as if the clock has struck three and it’s July 1998 again. The crusty shoulders of Canmore’s hulking Three Sisters mountains are cloaked in rustling pine scrub, alive with the rude exuberance of birdsong. The slow footfalls of our procession are muffled to sad silence by thick leaf-mold on the winding down-sloped path. Brilliant sunshine clatters hot and wrong through creaking pines. Our eyes are buffeted by reflecting heavy shards of copper from the urn. The Bow River – merely a singing stream here – chuckles through mossy gaps in whispering shadows, absorbing the murmurs tumbling from our stiffly praying lips. The last handfuls of my mother’s ashes eddy past a clot of torn red rose petals, swirling over the chattering pebbles and away. Far away. The world will never resonate for me, the way it did before.
The gritty brew frothing in the worn clay cup smelled confusing. At first, the lukewarm liquid tasted of stale root beer with a poke of powdered ginger. Then, for a second, the ‘ow!’ of pulverized hot pepper seeds clawed at the back of the throat, preceding the solace of bitter chocolate coating smoldering taste buds with sensually dark first aid. Competing with the biting oily tang of Seville orange peel, the musty sweetness of ground cinnamon teased the edges of the tongue and disappeared in a salty flourish.
My love is always with me. The steaming iron planes wrinkles from the grey-striped work shirt. Fresh fumes of detergent, fabric softener and baked cloth gust from the ironing board with each hot pass over sleeves, then collar and yoke. Ah! There it is again! Beneath the fragrant tangle of clothes-scents hides the layered secret smell from my beloved’s body. Another swipe of the iron, this time with a shot of steam. The fragrant billowing haze transports that faint exquisite whiff of pheromones to my nose. They stealthily signal-trigger receptors deep inside my prehistoric brain. The fuse ignites, then sizzles through bone from head to groin and back again, in a shock of fiery recollection.
The pads of his thick fingers burnish the knobs of my spine, imprinting heated ovals from nape of neck to swelling curve of waist. A heated slide of palms hovers over shoulders, feather light blows teasing a rush of pulse to the surface of trembling flesh. The vibrato of insistent stroking erases the contours of collar bones. He grounds the prongs of his electric fingers in the fold between my ribs and breast and sparks a breathy hymn from parted lips. His probing humid tongue maps moist paths across my earlobes, then trails from cheeks to cleft of chin downwards, ever downwards. Finally, finally, he captures my melting lips in the taut tasteful prison of a kiss.
Ten days ago, the Christmas pine glowed in the living room window. Pretty parcels tumbled in precious disarray under branches cosseted with garlands, heavy with lights and baubles. Now tossed into the sulk of a January afternoon, half buried with green garbage bags of wrapping paper, the stripped brittle branches poke out of the soiled plowed mounds at the end of the driveway. A spill of spiky twisted needles fills the paper boy’s boot prints on a couple of crushed cones. Random tags of forgotten silver flutter in the sharp breeze. Sap congeals where the bark of the trunk was broken by the teeth of the tree stand. Only a muddle of rabbit tracks circles the forest flotsam.