White Funeral, part nine
**I apologize for the long wait, but I hope you will find it worthwhile. This is the second-last part.... Enjoy.**
They say she died with the name of her homeland on her lips and a white lily in her hand, the way a true Queen should. We reach the cliffs within the hour, and Calixto anchors our borrowed sailboat without a word. He has not asked me any questions all the way here; in fact, he has not spoken at all. I can sense that his thoughts are swallowing him the way mine have swallowed me, made the injured part of my head trob, pain stabbing behind my eyes along with tears.
But now Calixto turns to me. "Elsa," he says, and his voice carries to me on the now-gentle wind. "Are you ready?"
I take the few steps to the stern and gaze out at Bronach's little boat, tied to ours the way she is now tied into our lives forever. Yet the weight of her death, her gaping absence is pressing down on me so hard I am sure I will crumble. A wave of dizziness floods over me, and I grip the edge of the boat to steady myself.
"We have to say goodbye now," Calixto says. "There's nothing else we can do."
"Yes, there is," I say, straightening. "Wait here."
"Elsa, where are you--"
"I'll be back," I assure him. "Just... wait for me. I won't be long, I promise."
He glances at the sky, looking for the sun, but it is hidden behind a blanket of pale grey, winter clouds. "All right," he says, and I carefully begin to climb out of the boat and onto the rocks. "Be careful."
I nod, meeting his eyes before turning away in search of the path that leads up to the top of the cliff, near Bronach's house. I find it, and begin the climb.
They say she was laid in her casket with a white veil over her face and a string of pearls at her throat, the way a true Queen should be. I have to stop frequently along the steep climb to catch my breath and keep my head from spinning, but finally I reach the top. I stand knee-deep in dried, windblown grass, staring at the little house. It seems so lonely now, so forgotten. There is no smoke coming from the chimney.
A soft nicker makes me jump, but it is only Calixto's horse, the roan Firafel. He stares at me with his round, baleful eyes before chomping at the stiff grass.
I approach the house quietly, carefully, as if I fear awakening someone inside. It's only when I am at the doorstep that I realize I am walking on tiptoe. But I can't help it; I feel as though I am disturbing something. The sacred silence of the hills, perhaps. Bronach's solitary place, her private life.
I push the door open. Of course, it was unlocked. The house inside is exactly as we left it, but the fire has died down to less than embers. I reach into the hearth and touch the ashes. They are cold.
I pace around the tiny rooms, unsure of what to do. Part of me does not want to touch anything more, to just seal up the house and leave it as it is. But the rest of me feels that I need to look for something special, a memento or token to send off with Bronach, a small touch from her life.
I walk to the bedroom, and sit lightly on the edge of the bed. That is when i realize that beside the pillow lays a bundle of white fabric, light and lacy. I pick it up, and think that she could have worn this as a veil. I decide in that instant to take it back wit me.
The drawers in the bedside table catch my eye, and I tread quietly over, pull the top one open. Inside, there is a notebook and a pen-- a journal, I realize immediately. I do not open it, but I take it out and lay it gingerly on the bed, then turn back to the drawer. There are a few items: buttons, pins, half-spun spools of thread, grey-white gull feahers. Then, at the back of the drawer, I spot a small rectangular box. Taking it out, I examine its contents.
One pearl necklace.
This will do. I very gently pick up the necklace, feel the smoothness of the pearls on my fingers. I slide the drawer closed, but before I go I remember the journal. Several minutes pass as I debate with myself, biting my lip over whether or not I should take it. I can't bring myself to leave it behind, but I cannot bring myself to open it and read what is written inside either, so what is the purpose of my taking it? Finally, I just scoop it up. Perhaps, someday, I will pass it on for someone else to read.
I pace once more through all the rooms, breathing in the smell of the little house this last time. Then, with a glance back, I tiptoe through the door and pull it tightly closed behind me.
"Firafel," I whisper to the roan as I pass, "We'll be back for you soon." His pointy ears prick up at my voice, and I can feel him watching me, the only living creature left in these hills besides the plants, as I head back down the rocky path to the boat.
They say the casket was draped in ried roses and the boat she laid in was painted white, the way a true Queen's should be. Calixto calls my name as I close the few feet between us, climbing back into the sailboat. There is relief in his voice.
"What do you have?" he asks.
I hand him the journal. "This was hers," I say. He takes it with the same ginger touch that I had held it with. I show him the pearl necklace and the white veil. "And these, too."
Understanding seeps through his voice, his gaze. "Oh," he says, the soft word made visible as warm breath in the cold. He takes hold of the rope and pulls Bronach's boat closer to ours. "Go on."
With Calixto's help I climb out of our boat and into Bronach's. It rocks a little, trying to right itself with the unbalanced, extra weight. I lower myself to my knees beside Bronach's frzen body, inching forward until I can reach her head. I hesitate, glancing at Calixto.
He nods, just once, but enough to give me courage.
A little timidly, I pick up her head. It is surprisingly light, but so limp and fragile and cold. Her lips and cheeks, tinged with blue. Gently, I slip the necklace over her head. The pearls gleam, smooth and cool, at her throat. With care I lay her head back down, straighten her out. I lay her hands over her heart, the way we traditionally place the hands of the deceased. As I touch them all I can think is how cold they are.
I gaze at her face, a face that I have no doubt will haunt my thoughts, lingering in my dreams as long as I will have them. Her eyes closed as though against the wind. I pull the veil out of my pocket and let it flutter against the winter breeze for a moment, whispering in movement. Then I tuck it over her curls, behind her head.
I whisper, "I'm so sorry," and let it fall over her face.
Rising to me feet, a ave of loneliness and sorrow washes over me. My head throbs, every dull stab of pain reminding me that she is dead. Calixto helps me back into the sailboat and unties the rope. He holds it in his hands for a minute, staring at it as if he cannot believe it is really there, can't feel it.
He lets go.
For a long time we stand there, watching the boat float away toward the horizon. The waves sweep it off into the distance, bear it gently and smoothly, as if they know what they carry. My eyes blur with tears so that I can barely see. Finally, the funeral boat is no more than a speck on the horizon. We shade our eyes and whisper goodbyes, and then it disappears.