Ash Garden by Matthew Spence

It was after the funeral of another family member that I think my sister had the idea of “natural reincarnation.”
            We’d been at said relative’s home, sharing memories and food made with her recipes in her honor. I’d been to a number of such events over the past few years as we’d all gotten older. It was, as they say, a testament to her character that so many friends and family came; there were people who died without such remembrances, which made me ruminate on what my own passing might be like with even fewer family to attend.
            “I mean, think about it,” she said. “We die, we get buried, or our ashes are scattered. We become part of the Earth, we fertilize the ground, we help create new life. We come back as plants, maybe, and get eaten, and get returned as waste, and it starts all over again…”
            “There are places that are doing that,” I replied, my mouth half full of potato salad. “They compost the bodies for fertilization of the trees.”
            “But what I’m talking about is more natural,” she countered. “We give something back.”
            I pondered that after I got home. The relative whose funeral we’d attended hadn’t said much about what she expected after she was gone, whether she believed in anything after one way or another. But it did get me thinking, about what I might leave behind when my time came.
            The next week, I called her back and told her about my own idea on the subject.
            “A garden?” she asked. “An actual garden?”
            “For ashes,” I told her. “Like you said, I think it matters if we give something back.”
            That was how the Garden started. It was just me, my sister and a few friends and relatives at first, but then talk of what we were doing spread, and more people began adopting the idea, putting it in their wills, buying or setting aside small plots on their property where their own ashes might be buried.
            What happened with the gardens was interesting. Some of them bloomed flowers and vegetables that grew tall and healthy, while others were smaller and weaker, or failed to take, leaving only bare ground, not even grass or weeds.
            “What do you think it means?” I asked my wife one day. We’d gotten our own plot and, if I am to be honest, I was a little concerned about what our own results might be.
            “It doesn’t mean anything,” she reassured me. “We’ll have a big, healthy garden of our own someday. We’ll do just fine.”
            My sister, however, had some different thoughts. “Don’t tell her I said this,” she said. “But maybe some of the gardens are based on the owner’s personality, or negative traits. If you can’t grow or give anything while you’re alive, then you can’t when you’re gone. But don’t feel bad. I like to think most people are good. I know you guys are. You’ll have a great garden.”
            More years passed, and we got older. My sister passed away, then my wife. A while ago, I learned that my own time was coming. Cancer, my own lung cells having turned against me. It wasn’t easy facing my own mortality, but I’d made a promise to both of them, so I buried their ashes in my own garden.
            I am so far pleased with the results. Flowers of equal size and height grow where they are buried, next to my own soon to be used spot. The flowers are as vibrant and alive as they were. I hope I can be half as much.
            I hope I can help them grow again.

Matthew Spence was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His work has most recently appeared in Short Beasts.


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