Okay, I admit I can seem rather ghoulish at times. I mean, I have a small collection of animal skulls and bones (even a few animal penis bones) in a lighted, glassed-in cabinet in our house. The collection also includes fossils and teeth. I often carve images of death and decay, and I work in the dark fiction field, reading, editing, illustrating and laying out some things that the squeamish of mind can’t even ponder. That stuff doesn’t affect me much. I do find it rather creepy, however, that a growing stash of human and animal remains has begun to form in our home.
No, not body parts in plastic bags. This “collection” consists of the ashes of cremated pets and relatives. One was intentional: the remains of our dog, Aschenbach, who died a couple years back of cancer. We just haven’t taken the time to spread the ashes in places he liked, or we enjoyed taking him (we’re sentimental that way). And even that one wooden box disturbs me a bit. We put it on a shelf for storage to deal with later, and there it has sat. But in the last few months, the piles have grown.
Last Spring, we helped Tommy’s parents move from a huge house to a much smaller one, and I drove a truckload of excess furniture and personal items to our home. Upon unpacking, I discovered we’d somehow acquired the ashes of one of his relatives. Okay, fine. What do we do with them? I’m not into displaying them on a shelf, as I have to walk past them every day. Again, the creepiness factor. And, out of respect for his family, I can’t just dump them in the woods (though I have been tempted). So … into storage with Aschenbach’s remains they went.
Just this past month, we helped Tommy’s parents move once again. This time from the smaller house to an apartment in an Assisted Living Facility. And now, in trying to unpack and deal with the excess (when furniture and boxes from their last move still sit in the garage and basement waiting for homes), I discover not one, but two more boxes of ashes—family pet and some long-gone relative. I am loathe to unpack more boxes, as I have no idea what I’ll find. I fear that eventually our house will become one huge pile of human remains, boxes and boxes of those now passed stacked high on every shelf.
The real question here is … what do we do with these things? Okay, maybe the real question is, why do we keep such things in the first place. But it’s gone beyond that in this situation, and I have no real authority to decide. The pets are probably easier. We know what Aschenbach liked. But the little dog that’s been gone for 20 years? What possible reason is there for keeping those, and what possible place might we spread them? The human remains, however, are another matter. I’m not exactly sure why, but they are, at least mentally. And I feel a bit haunted having them sit in our home.
I can’t just throw these things out in the woods, can I? Apart from having to explain this to the family, my imagination would forever after envision the reformed ashes wandering our woods, looking for a body to claim to return to human form. And I can’t throw them in the lake, as then I’d never again be able to swim in it. I already have to shut off certain parts of my mind while out there, just wildly imagining what may be at the bottom.
Hmmm … maybe my work does affect me more than I thought …
I suppose we could do the Heinlein thing and make a huge stew out of them all. Consume their spirit and knowledge to add to our own experiences. How else can we truly Grok them? But, honestly, that idea may not only be illegal, but really, really makes me cringe. It’s fine to read about, but my mind wouldn’t be able to handle it after (I very likely wouldn’t have been one of the “Alive” characters that survived, and not only because I couldn’t play Rugby to save my soul—or limbs). I can’t throw them in the compost pile for the same reason (though I bet it would make an amazing fertilizer).
So … what to do? For now, I suppose they go on a shelf in the basement. And every time I think about them, I will conjure up images of the ashes growing damp and mingling into one great animal/human hybrid—dog tails and ears and teeth on Victorian-looking stern women from 1800s photographs, all stiff and staring eyes—seeking a new soul. Revenge for keeping them here. And, when they make their way up the stairs to my bedroom at night, leaving grit and charred bone along their path, my only defense against their vengeance will be, “Hey, at least I didn’t eat you.”