By Kori Klinzing
My favorite mug—the one with Addison’s picture—was just this side of too hot as I stirred my dog’s ashes into the water. The damn things didn’t want to dissolve, and it took all my concentration to stir gently enough and not to spill all over the counter. They were thick, irregular, with bits of bone that only showed themselves when I’d dumped a spoonful in, and they resisted all attempts at dissolution.
But every bit dissolving would be a little like losing Addison again. And I still wanted to cling to every trace, to see more evidence of his existence than the picture on the mug and the ones on my phone. My sweet mongrel with the warmest brown eyes, his suede-soft ears, that fuzzy patch on his forehead I could never resist running my thumb over.
I’d donated the rest of his special food to a friend whose dog had the same kidney issues as Addison, and my sibling had just gotten a puppy and needed toys so Addison’s went to her.
I’d kept a few of Addison’s favorites. The plush rabbit that had been loved so hard the eyes had fallen off. The squirrel that didn’t squeak anymore. That and the little urn of ashes—cremains, the pamphlet had called them—was all I had left of my boy. The cheap urn, made of plastic painted to look like marble, a small mockery, was open beside me, leaving the ashes of my best friend exposed to the air.
Adding honey seemed right. Like a proper ritual. You told the bees when someone important died, and if I remembered my World History, honey had been used in Ancient Egyptian death rituals.
I did remember about pets being buried with their masters. I wondered how common the other way around was, in the history of the world.
Rein it in, I told myself. Focus.
I went to the cabinet where I kept the honey for my many teas, at least one for each kind. I wanted yew honey, if that was even a thing. I imagined it would taste smokey and dark. Lend something to the ashes. But the mixture would already taste like death. No need to add more.
My hand found a jar of wildflower honey. Simple, sweet. Locally sourced, from that farmer’s market we went to on Sunday mornings, where everyone had a head pat for him, and was eager to tell him what a good boy he was.
Honey that was collected in the same fields I took him to on summer weekends, so he could run without the restriction of a leash.
One spoonful, two, and then I stirred until the honey dissolved.
The graying liquid gained a golden tint around the little pockets of powder that had yet to be broken down.
How many times I had stood here, making tea, Addison watching with those warm eyes from a few feet away, his tail wagging expectantly. Silently egging me toward the treat bowl, or hoping I’d drop something tasty.
Eventually the last of the clumps had either disintegrated or settled at the bottom of the mug. And that was good enough.
“Alright,” I said to the empty room. “Moment of truth.”
Before I could psych myself out, I downed the concoction.
It tasted like grit and honey, sour and sweet and scalding on the tongue. I gagged, but I choked it down. Held my mouth closed until I had no choice but to swallow. I would not throw Addison up into the sink. I would not.
I blinked, the ashes already churning sour in my gut, and peeled my hands from the still-hot mug so I could set it down.
But instead of the pale green countertops, the breakfast dishes piled to one side of the sink for washing, instead of my kitchen, there was sun. Glaring and bright, washing all the blue out of the sky.
My head turned without me telling it to, and I nearly threw everything up all over again.
That was me. Standing over myself, in black and white. And it wasn’t quite the face I saw in the mirror every day. The mole on my cheek was on the wrong side, as was the scar I’d gotten from rolling over into my nightstand when I’d been seven. This was the face others must see when they looked at me. My hair tied back, my lips pulled into a fond grin.
I crouched over myself, and I felt this odd swelling in my chest. A feeling I’d never associated with looking at myself. Pure fondness. Trust. Even love.
My hand reached out and caressed me, thumb-pad against my forehead, and I gasped.
Oh. Oh no.
I blinked rapidly, trying to fight the rush of grief that crushed that swell right out of my chest. Salt tears washed the black and white version of myself out of the world, replacing it with a pixelated version of my kitchen, my dirty dishes. The fake marble urn.
I didn’t feel any different. No need to rip open the fridge for the bacon I knew was in there, or to go outside and roll in the grass.
Still. The smart thing to do would be to pour the rest of the wet ashes down the drain and call someone. But what the hell could anyone do, really? My mother would tell me to look for another pet, as if they were interchangeable. My friends would try distracting me. I wasn’t ready, in either case.
All I wanted was another moment of that peace, that unconditional love. Addison was gone, but I could still have this. For as long as the ashes lasted.
I took a shuddering breath, waiting until the sobs abated. And I reached for the mug again.