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Robbie, Gil, Kori and Avery piled into the late Ruth Tirabi’s Honda Odyssey . Thanks to Honda, Ruth hadn’t needed to substitute comfort for clean air simply because she had a large family. The Odyssey had accommodated her need to transport a husband, four kids, their dog and their gadgets without sacrificing low emissions, and it still got pretty good gas mileage, two things American car manufacturers deigned unworthy of excess research funds.
“Where we going?” Kori asked, starting the engine.
“What about Jersey? We could go down to Cape May point?” Avery said, fiddling with the lid of the cardboard that contained his parents ashes. “This way they can look at the sun rising and setting all the time. I’m also thinking I should drive.”
“Forget it. I’m driving,” Kori said.
“Cut him a break once in a while, Kor, or are you too old to remember sixteen?” Robbie said with raised eyebrows. “Soon he won’t need your permission. But you’re still going to need a lawyer someday.”
“If you let me drive today I promise I won’t charge you,” Avery added.
“I’m thinking Chickies Rocks overlooking the Susquehanna. Mom and Dad loved that spot,” Kori said, ignoring both her brothers. “I’m also thinking you should both shut up and just be passengers.”
“Awwww, you said shut up,” Gil said in a sing-song voice.
“Yeah, and who you gonna tell?” Kori said. Gil turned to the window. Robbie shot Kori a sad look; Avery squeezed Gil’s thigh, but said nothing.
When Ruth and Marty died, Kori installed herself as the family matriarch despite her lack of any obvious mothering instincts. She hated to cook, couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and her advice — which in no way resembled Ruth’s thoughtful and incisive rumination — sucked. If Ruth’s words were like creamy hot fudge over vanilla ice cream, Kori’s were more like motor oil. There was a good flavor in there somewhere, but you’d be likely to throw up before you were finished.
The boys shouldered on even though most days they wanted to tell her to just shut up. But they held their tongues out of love and a sense that Kori’s assumption of Ruth’s role was the only thing keeping her from fracturing into a billion jagged shards. So the three brothers exchanged glances and suppressed smiles which Kori didn’t notice.
“Whatever, Kori. Let’s just go,” Avery said. An excellent judge of character, a skill that would serve him well throughout his life, Avery was the first to discover that going head-to-head with his sister rarely worked.
“We’ll let Gil decide,” Robbie suggested. All three siblings turned to Gil for a decision.
“Rocks,” he said, and Kori peeled out of the driveway.
“Hey, let’s get there in one piece, huh?”
“Hhmmmph,” was all Kori said in response.
Two hours later, they pulled up to the precipice at Chickies Rocks, a favored spot of the remote-controlled plane cognoscenti, a steep three hundred foot drop straight down a rocky ledge. Four pairs of eyes looked upon the banks of the mighty Susquehanna River.
Robbie pulled Gil’s remote-controlled plane from the back hatch and Gil plopped down on the ground to fiddle with it, adjusting the tail, the landing gear, and anything else that moved. ZiZi ran over to Gil and after a cursory sniff, licked Gil’s face several times.
“Down, Zi,” Robbie said.
Gil made no move to push ZiZi away while he scrounged through his toolbox, huffing and shoving the tools around. Robbie reached in and pulled out a small wrench. Gil snatched it and adjusted a few screws on the plane.
Although the weather was balmy, the force of the wind whipping up the sides of the cliff made it feel ten degrees cooler. Like an insistent child, it swiped at Kori’s hair as she stood, clutching the cardboard box to her chest. She dropped to her knees, squeezing her eyes shut. Moments later, she felt the gentle pressure of Robbie’s hands as he placed his baseball cap on her head and tucked her hair up underneath. She leaned against his leg in gratitude.
In private, Kori had cried every day since her parents died, her body wracked and shuddering with silent tears, her shoulders aching with the weight of grief and new responsibilities, and the one thought that kept returning to her again and again – tinny and insistent – they were orphans.
Avery joined Kori on the precipice. Gil handed Robbie the small wrench and stood back to remotely test the landing gear, driving the plane forward and back on its makeshift runway.
“Box, please,” Gil said to Robbie.
“He’s ready,” Robbie called over his shoulder.
Avery took the box from Kori and set it next to Gil’s plane, pulling out the contents: two thick plastic bags filled with charcoal grey ash and small white bits of bone.
“How are you going to keep the bags in the plane,” Robbie asked.
Gil’s imperturbable face grew wide-eyed and he looked to Avery for help.
“Don’t look at me, man. I just record the stuff,” Avery said.
Gil rummaged through his tool box, picking up each tool and throwing it down again. Robbie walked to the car and returned with a role of duct tape. He made a ring, sticky side out, and stuck it to the bottom of each bag before setting them in the plane.
“Good to go,” Robbie said. Avery put a hand on each bag, blinking away the water that flooded his eyelids. Kori shuffled her feet and folded her hands across her chest.
“Anyone want to say anything?” Robbie asked. Kori covered her mouth; Avery shook his head from side to side.
“I’m no good with words,” Robbie said, his voice cracking. “They know how we feel.”
Gil stepped forward, cleared his throat as if about to deliver an edict. “Mom, Dad, we love you very much. It sucks that you’re dead.”
Avery giggled, breaking the tension. Gil leaned over, his face touching the bags, containing the last mortal remains of Ruth and Marty Tirabi. He opened them and whispered something to each, then stood back and started the plane’s engine. It lurched forward, bucking under the additional weight, bumping over small sticks, and gradually picking up speed as it approached the end of the makeshift runway and the cliff’s edge.
“It doesn’t have enough speed, Gil,” Robbie said. “It’s gonna crash.”
Gil bopped his head slowly in time to a beat the rest of them were not privy to. At the exact moment when the plane would run out of ground, and gravity was about to have it’s way with her, Gil flipped a switch on the remote and a turbo thrust sent it hurtling out and up, clearing both rock and trees. It hung tenuously for several seconds, but Gil hit the turbo switch again and it took off like a shot arching up and away.
Gil sent the plane soaring over the cliffs of Chickies Rocks, swooping and sliding, in, out and around, but not upside down, edging closer each time to the banks of the Susquehanna. Bits of the plane’s contents were occasionally swept away by an errant gust of wind, but for the most part, Ruth and Marty’s ashes remained solidly ensconced inside the cockpit of the little plane.
“Mom’s going to get dizzy,” Kori said. They watched the plane, now far across the river. Handfuls of ash spilled out, whirling like mini-tornadoes before drifting to earth.
“Last chance. Anybody want to say anything?” Robbie said. No one responded.
Avery’s speech was more akin to a whisper: “You are in our breath and in our bones. You are in the lights of our eyes, and the shapes of our hearts. As long as we live, we will think of you and remember, and we will never be a minute without you for it’s your blood mingled with ours, your life, the life you’ve given us.”
Gil sent the plane hundreds of feet into the air before bringing it back down to dive-bomb the river. At the last minute he pulled out and sent it up again, this time, though, instead of climbing straight, he performed a series of spirals which sent the plane up through a spinning vortex of ash. “Bye-bye, Mommy and Daddy,” he said, as ashes arced out and down to the river. When the wind scattered the last of them, Gil brought the plane in for a landing.
Robbie dried his eyes and removed the bags from the cockpit, turning them inside out; they were empty.
“What do we do with the bags?” he asked.
“Burn ‘em,” Kori said.
“You can’t burn them,” Avery said. “They’re plastic.”
Robbie gathered everything up, plane, plastic, remote control and placed it all in the backseat of the minivan. He pulled out an insulated backpack and a blanket and walked to a small clearing. From the backpack he procured a small feast: bread, cheese, pepperoni, olives, grapes, mangos, peanut butter, yogurt, a bottle of wine and some dog treats for ZiZi. He whistled low and ZiZi charged over, tail wagging. Robbie handed Gil, now smashed up against his brother, clutching his arms around himself as if he were cold, a yogurt and a spoon.
“Nice insulation,” Avery said. “Does it work?” Robbie nodded, and wrapped an arm around Gil who relaxed. He handed a knife to Avery to cut pieces of cheese, and pulled plastic glasses out of the pack along with a bottle of spring water.
“Geez, how much’ ya got in there?” Kori asked.
“Gil doesn’t make anything half-ass, sister,” Robbie said, accepting the half glass of water from Avery. He topped it off with a sip of wine and handed it to Gil.
“You’re giving him wine?” Kori glared at Robbie, then Avery. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”
Gil giggled and cast his eyes downward. He sniffed the glass several times then put it under ZiZi’s nose and let her sniff. The dog shook her head to remove the scent from her nasal passages.
“We’re going to miss the heck out you, Mom and Dad,” Robbie said holding up his glass. They clinked plastic: Robbie and Avery threw theirs back; Kori and Gil sipped theirs.
“That was nice, what you said earlier?” Kori said.
“Thanks. Well, thank Mom for all the poetry she made me read.”
“I miss Daddy’s laugh,” Gil said. “And Mommy’s smell. Like bread and flowers,” Gil devoured a small sandwich of bread, cheese and pepperoni. The corner of Kori’s mouth crooked up watching him eat.
“I miss Mom’s cooking. And her stories. And Dad’s stupid jokes. And his crazy inventions.” Kori sipped her wine. “You don’t suppose that those people might come back, do you, looking for some of Dad’s other things?”
“I hope they do.” Robbie said. He downed the rest of his glass, and Gil and Avery did the same. Kori bit her thumbnail and cast a worried glance out across the river.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before, click here. . .