People will say many things, will deliver platitudes like so much detritus to sweep away, will make conciliatory promises as if those might be a blanket in which a girl could stay warm. Yet, when night falls and the people leave, their words float away with them, and all that remains is an ashen flavor.
Night falls heavy here, air thick, cloying. Father upstairs, and she knew what his fingers were doing. She had memorized the calluses on them so long ago, knew where heat or pressure had burned their mark on his flesh. She knew how those same calluses might catch against her mother's fine, silken dress, or perhaps her simpler cotton shift. She knew he wouldn't pick something she had worn all the time, no, that'd be too much rather he'd dig deep in the closest until he could find an old dress or a shirt she hadn't loved. It'd be the first step he'd be able to take.
She was going to take her own first step, though.
She knew he'd be so, so sad if he found out, so he simply never would. If it were up to him mother would stay close to their hearts for all time, placed perhaps on the mantle or in the corner of a window, someplace where the metallic urn might heat a little. She did love sun. He'd think that'd suit her, and maybe it would, a little.
Only her daughter, well, she knew what would suit her even better.
So she carefully, quietly dragged over the tall stool, the one that she always got in trouble for climbing on 'you're going to break your neck one of these days, girl,' her mother's voice, sudden and true, and full of more purpose and vitality than all the apologies she had suffered this day, the flocking of old women. They had reminded her of birds, with their great, heavy bodies and flowery, thick perfumes, pressing her against their chests and chirping above her head, words almost indistinguishable as human in the rush. Her mother wouldn't have liked them, would have looked at her and rolled her eyes skyward. That little gesture, though, would've been enough would've made what was intolerable suddenly funny, a joke they would share.
Her mother wouldn't have liked the bird-women. And she wouldn't like being stuck in a jar for the rest of eternity, either.
Balancing carefully, so carefully on the stool she reached up, moving aside the heavy lid and setting it down quietly. Couldn't alert her father, oh no. She reached a hand in her hands were small enough still to easily pass the gaping mouth of the thing, small enough to all but disappear into the darkness it contained. Another might have felt the rough grain, not quite uniform, beneath their fingers and shuddered, realizing what it was. Only she knew and didn't shudder. It was her mother, same woman as ever, just in a different form. What was it she always said? 'No matter what, I'll always love you.' Well, her mother would always love her, and she would always love her mother, whether as a human being with long, golden-brown hair or as little grains of almost-sand drifting through the slits between her fingers.
She took a good handful, small because her hand was small but it'd be enough, and descended as carefully as she had climbed. She sneaked a peek down the hallway, but anticipated what she found that is, little enough. Her father would still be mourning, in his quiet, solitary way. He probably wouldn't do much more than cook dinner and put her to bed until tomorrow, or maybe even the next day. She was distracted from her mission for a moment when a scowl twisted her young features, imagining the good-natured poking and prodding sure to continue in the next few days, but then a couple of grains slipped her fingers and she was jolted back to her task.
Moving faster now, trying to lose as little as possible, she eased open the balcony doorway and went outside. It was still bright out, bright in that way of sunset, all golden-red, hints of orange. And the top of the sky, when she turned a little, was purple descending into blue. Her mother loved this time of day, loved standing out here and breathing in deeply, as if the colors might hold a scent all their own, or as if they told her stories. Her mother looked like that a lot, like she was forever seeing things that weren't there or that she saw the things that other people missed. It's why she knew her mother wouldn't want to be cooped up in an urn, no matter how pretty and fine it might be.
She opened both her hands and didn't mourn the few flakes that drifted off with the breeze. Tiny flakes of skin or hair or bone mattered little, in the grand scheme of things she was old enough to know that, at least. So she simply took a deep, long breath, and then blew hard into her cupped hands, like she'd blown the heads off dandelions while making a wish, or like she always tried to blow out all the birthday candles, no matter that the number kept growing. Her mother would've approved of the enthusiasm, she was sure.
And then she thought to close her eyes, just like her mother would have. And there she thought she understood, for the first time. Because the fragments leaving her hand were now more than that, they had taken form.
They had taken flight.