Her feet always showed her age more than the rest of her body. Dried blister atop dried blister, flaking skin; a bone spur adding dimension to her little toe. I cradle her foot in my hands and began to massage it starting with the toes and working my way down to the heel. Slowly and evenly I make circular motions with my thumbs, kneading the cold flesh of the woman who raised me. Everyone needs a little pampering. What you don’t get in life, you should get in death.
“Tomorrow I’ll bring you some clear polish and a nail file,” I say aloud. If she were really here she’d laugh at how she’d be the only old lady in the next world with a fresh pedicure and ask me to pick up a turkey sandwich for the trip while I was at it. But there is no time left for polish.
The memorial candle in the corner throws a slideshow of shadows on the walls. I lock my thumbs together and wiggle my fingers. “Look Gram, a bird,” I say, smiling like a three-year-old who successfully campaigned for a better bedtime instead of a 32-year-old woman.
I have no one to laugh with me so I return my focus to her feet. Fishing through my backpack I search through overdue paperbacks, unopened bank statements, and old receipts, unable to find my unscented hand lotion in one of the messes of my life. I grab what she left for me instead.
Sealed with a strip of masking tape, the manila envelope has my name written in blue marker across the top. As I lift it from my bag the contents slide to one corner causing the opposite side to flop over and hit the ground. My arms, over-anxious to recover the package, dive toward the funeral parlor’s well-swept floor taking the rest of me down. Sitting below her body, I trace the perimeter of the oversized envelope with a single finger.
“OK,” I whisper up to her shrouded body.
I shake the envelope. The contents make the sound of metal jacks being rattled in a loose fist before spilling out on the floor.
My inheritance before me Five New York City subway tokens and a note:
For you, Reb, my world.
It’s time to be part of it.
So long for now.
One at a time, I pick up the tokens and drop them into my coat pocket. When reunited, they clink like wind chimes crafted from mismatched spoons and forks. Then I pick myself up. The undertaker who wants to be called funeral home director has already told me it’s closing time. So here we are. Last call.
I kiss Gram on the forehead and wave goodbye.
The sound in my pocket follows me home. Along the way, others join it. A missed F Train. A work boot on a metal grate. A stick of gum in a partially opened mouth. It’s a song of sorts. Tinny and almost joyful. Or, perhaps, it’s not a song at all. Maybe it’s a call. A birdcall. One intended for me and other lone birds.
Beth Kanter’s fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in an array of publications including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Bright Flash Literary Review, The Writer, the Chicago Tribune, and This Is What America Looks Like: The Washington Writers Publishing House Anthology. Beth was awarded a James Kirkwood Literary Prize for her novel-in-progress, Paved With Gold, and was the winner of the 2020 Lilith magazine fiction contest. She also has written six non-fiction books about Washington, DC, including No Access DC. When not writing, Beth leads narrative writing workshops. Read more of her work at bethkanter.com.