Brenda Peynado

 
 

IN THE CREMATORIUM

I work at a pet cremation facility where we are supposed to give people back their beloved Fluffies and Kings and Prancers and Buggers, each one’s ashes individually wrapped in a hand-carved box, except when the owners don’t want the ashes back, in which case the remains all go out to a pile in the back parking lot where one day in a million years the carbon in those ashes will become diamonds. Supposedly. Really, though, the ashes go into a big communal pit no matter what and we just dole out an appropriate amount with a child’s beach shovel according to the original weight of the animal. It is Flu-Spo-Cranc-Bug-Ity, and so on, in the ashes that they get back. I mail them. Somewhere there are lost ashes sitting in a post office. It’s all the same carbon, the same identical compound. All that is left is the exact same molecule repeated and repeated in flaky white crumbles. I know. I burn the rest away myself.

I love watching the bodies go in on the metal grate. Dogs with the slackest lips, paws cross each other like gentlemen, cats with tongues hanging out, lizards with scales so soft they look like fur. We had an ostrich once and a baby deer that had been tamed. I pull the lever and the body goes into the burning tank and out goes the layer of ashes, and around me and around me the dust particles dance like it is May Day and I am the maypole.

One day a woman pounds on the door of the warehouse. I watch her distorted figure, short and plump, through the peep hole. Her hair frizzes out like hands waving. Her face is mashed up in grief.

I say, Please make your way calmly to the corporate offices, the correct return address to the package in your hand.

They gave you up, she says. Let me in. This is not my Dodger. He was the biggest Doberman you’d ever seen, and look at this pitiful box.

I carved it myself, full of flowers and a sky with clouds. It was a crude job, I can see that, and I had made a mistake with that tiny box.

I assure you ma’am, I say with my lips shoved through the mail slot. That is your Dodger.

She continues to pound. What a force in that little body like a spring! A nail hits me in the forehead. The door pops off its hinges.

She stands there with the sunlight brilliant behind her. I expect her to lay into me with the box. She holds it over her head. Packages ready to go out in tomorrow’s mail teeter in giant stacks. I try to hide the oven and the giant communal ash-pit like a circus rink behind me. I hold the child’s shovel up to defend myself.

She says, He was an animal, and he slept in my bed with his paw curled over my neck. He could take a piece of meat so gentle with his lips, and he would dodge and run. This is not my Dodger, where did he go?

I try to put my hands over my mouth, but I can’t help myself.

You’re right, I say, that’s not Dodger. It’s all the dogs and cats and pets we’ve ever burned. Those ashes are kljodalaimwwoipmncxbvuwe, etcetera, now.

Are you serious? she asks. How do you even pronounce that?

Really, I say.

She flings the box at me. She begins to sob.

I’m so sorry, I say like I’ve been told, I feel your pain.

I hug her in the doorway and these fat globes of salt wrench out of my eyes, and I sob with her, my arms around her warm back. We convulse together. Eventually the movement reminds us of what our bodies are made for, which is not sobbing, but warm skin, closeness, moving in an oddball dance as one.

So we fall in love with each other. My neurons fall in love with their own electricity. I ask her to marry me, and I cry triumphant-like, What are we but the atoms of the earth!

She says she’s going to send off to a company to make a diamond out of the carbon of her dog.

I say, It’s not your dog, and she says, I remember.

I say, I will propose to you with a diamond made of all the dogs and cats of the earth.

You’ve already proposed, she says.

A grand gesture! I say.

She howls to agree to my proposal.

But then I realize that already the carbon of diamonds are made of mastodons, raptors, T-rexes and comets, a much better symbol of marriage than the dogs and cats of the earth. I want to weep again; I know this marriage will never last. What are symbols? I want to crumble them with my fists and smear them on my face like war paint.

I say, I’ll make sculptures from the carbon. I’ll make the David, I’ll shape La Pieta out of wet clay, I will reform Mozart himself from an atom that was in the bones of a cat, formed from the cat’s breath of oxygen turned into carbon dioxide, which had 1/39th of a chance of having an atom that was also in the lungs of Mozart’s last breath. I’ll make a golem.

There’s no need, she says.

When is there ever a need! I cry, trying to save the marriage.

The circus pit of ashes behind me heaves into a giant mound. A golem rises out of the pit, mighty, rounded, large, but if I punched it, it would explode into dust. I can’t believe my luck. We need a priest for our wedding, I command, so he raises his ashen hands to bless us in the crematorium, which to me has always sounded like planetarium or sanatorium or aquarium, except we’re looking deeper instead of in or out.

We say, ‘Til death do us part. We get to stare into each other’s eyes for a few moments with the golem looming over us, and hers are the color of crab grass in summer. I’m so sorry for your loss, I say like I’ve been taught, and then we convulse together again like epileptics.

Then the golem begins to eat us. One of us in each corner of his mouth like cigars, starting with our noses, our ears, our feet, and then my ankles and her cankles, my stick legs, the blonde and black tips of our hair. He sucks at our skin, until it loses its rubber band springiness. There are holes like cigarette burns where our skin rips away. We start smoldering with desire for each other and to stay in each other’s arms when we return to the earth. The ghosts of dogs dance among us.

I say, My darling, I love you.

She turns to me, the golem’s lips around her pelvis like a skirt. She says, One day we will be scattered in every corner of the earth, I will be a part of a metamorphosis, I will be all armies against each other in war, and who knows where you’ll be.

The golem takes our stomachs and we feel so light, skinnier than we’ve been in our lives. We are hungry for air. We want our molecules to float in the wind. My hands, which are now just skeletal ribbons of white, I hold up like we are at the tallest point of a roller coaster, the drop opening up before us.

I tell her, Sweetheart, I will never fool you again.

I hear her say, Aha! before we are on the velvet of the golem’s tongue.

Inside the golem, we scatter, we dance, and he exhales us.
 
 

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