decorating the dearly departed
When the grass is pale, soil drying, I track dirt and shreds of dead
leaves onto the carpet, scattered by eroding boots. I’m holding a
rabbit in one arm, where it hangs loosely, limp, graying in my grip.
There are flowers in its teeth and hair, carefully placed by my small,
clumsy fingers, right after I found it under a tired tree. I’m grieving
a life I didn’t know—clutching the vessel still silky, but somehow
lifeless. I picture it before death: leaping, tumbling through grass and
snow, spinning over spring’s sprung thistles, daisies caught between its
toes, its white fur softer than dandelion seeds blown to the wind. I wish
for the effervescence it must have had, but I do not wish for this fate.
Fingertips trailing down its back, I wonder if it has ever been afraid
to die, or if it has ever leaned over a casket to give a last kiss on the
cheek, or if its mother ever hugs it a little too tightly before school.
Maybe it never has shaky hands or a racing heart. I wrap my hand
around its paw. We all end up here someday, surrounded by flowers.
I set the spiritless plush on the kitchen counter and I’m met with my
mother’s scream—something like terror or disgust, an eerie deviation
from her typical thoughtful tone. My head is already lowered with
shame when she stuffs her hand in a plastic bag and holds the animal
by a foot. I almost expect to hear the rabbit yelp, but it swings feebly
as she carries it outside. I am quickly warned about the diseases and
dangers that settle on the dead. I take a long shower, and she washes
the scent of decay off of my clothes. When the sun goes down I lie
and wonder if one day, if my body goes still, she will put flowers in
my teeth and hair, or if she will recoil in fear, shrieking at the sight of
Elizabeth Barrett is a third-year undergraduate at Dartmouth College majoring in English and minoring in Native American Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is a writer, activist, and a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe.