“I had Sun ‘n’ Moon Florist deliver the flowers,” said Steve over his cell phone from the west coast; “Live wildflowers. I keep thinking of our trip to Hawaii. You. Me. Mom.”
Bootsie hooked her cell to her belt and plugged in the earpiece, “Yeah, Hawaii was nice. I got the plants. They sent a plastic rectangle of green plugs. But the post office lost the rock. You need to send another rock.” Bootsie dumped the contents of a shipping box onto the floor. No rock.
“How could they lose a rock? I paid postage by weight and had it boxed with styrofoam peanuts around it,” said Steve.
Bootsie kicked at styrofoam packing product and turned off the overhead fan, “Maybe they opened the box for inspection and the rock fell out. Then it just blended in with all the other rocks in some driveway, so they said the package was empty.”
“It’s from Point Reyes. Salinian granite washed smooth by the ocean. Gray as the fog. It was insured,” said Steve.
“You insured a rock?”
“Fifty dollars worth. It’s an important rock.”
“Maybe they thought it was a lump of semtex, or something,” said Bootsie.
“It clearly said, ‘landscaping material’ on the package.”
“I see that now, ‘Landscaping Material,’ and styrofoam peanuts, but no rock. You need to send another. I’ll keep the plugs watered until it gets here.”
“What kind of flowers did Sun ‘n’ Moon deliver?”
“It’s plugs of a green plant. Little blue wildflowers. Looks like some kind of grass? I’ll ask Mrs. Bishop next time I see her.”
“It’s supposed to be wildflowers. It’s a thing out here on the west coast. They keep living instead of dying like cut flowers.”
“You sent blue bonnets one year, then vetch, then coreopsis, and Indian paintbrush. Let me look. This year it’s little blue flowers.” With one hand, Bootsie poked in all the places where her eyeglasses could be hiding. The plastic flat of grass plugs in the other felt dry, so she stuck them under a trickle of water from the kitchen tap. Her glasses were on the window sill; “Here it is. It says ‘meadow wildflowers.’ Doesn’t say what kind.”
“They’ll probably just mow it down anyway. Did any of the other stuff seed itself?”
“It’s hard to tell. They keep it mowed. When I go, I’ll look over the fence at the cow pasture and see what I can see. I’m sure some seeds blew over there, and we had good rain through the summer, and so far this spring. I mean, what’s left of the cow pasture anyway. They’re building condos.” She placed the flat on the window sill in the western sun.
“You’re just humoring me. Trying to make me feel less guilty,” said Steve.
She said, “I got the plants. There should be some rocks left on the ground. They leave the grass a little higher, and mow a little less frequently than they used to. So the wildflowers can grow. Maybe it’s a thing here, too.”
“Wish I could be there.”
“You say that every year, but then another year goes by.”
“It’s hard, but I send things–flowers. Rocks from wherever I go.”
“She knows she’s not forgotten,” said Bootsie. “For heaven’s sake–a whelk from Sanibel Island, serpentite from the Maine coast, Salinian granite from Point Reyes…”
“You’re a peach. It’s a day she shouldn’t feel neglected.”
“It’s no extra effort–not much anyway. I’m going out there for Aunt Betty and Matt. I have my bag of garden tools: hand trowel, cultivator, shears, edger. Some people bring picnics–sort of like a reunion.”
“It’s so pleasant out there. I always enjoyed the drive from the city.”
“You would be surprised now. The cities, well the suburbs, have grown so far. A drive-in-fast-food place sits right across from the front gate. And all along the east side of the highway. There was actually a motion in city council to buy the land and move the graves.”
“They did that in San Francisco when land got so scarce, and so valuable. At Laurel Hill Cemetery, they bulldozed all the headstones and moved the coffins to a mass gravesite in Colma. An artist built an installation, nearly under the Golden Gate Bridge, he called it The Wave Organ, out of chunks of granite and marble from the tombstones. He stuck pipes of various diameters and lengths down into the water of the Bay right where it meets the Pacific. You can hear the vibrations of tides, ships passing, their propellers turning, bloviating whales.”
“Seriously, Steve, I don’t think Memorial Day should be done by proxy. You should come next year. Antiphony requires more than one voice.”
“We could pack a picnic basket. Scotch for me. Cuervo for you,” he said; “We could libate Mom with a beer!” He laughed into the phone. Then sobbed, and grew silent.
At Perpetua, Bootsie knelt on Mom’s grave and dug stalks and roots from the edges of the rectangle. Memorial Day is for bittersweet memories, she thought. It is the weight of our grief that holds the dead in their graves. These piles of stones remind them they are not forgotten. She put down fresh potting soil and set the plugs of little wild petunias that Steve had sent. As she tilled the ground, she found the stones anew and set them on the tombstone: green serpentite from the coast of Maine, coprolite from South Carolina, a whelk from Sanibel Island, Salinian granite from Point Reyes–gray as the fog and worn smooth by the ocean, and Pele’s black tears from Kilauea.