My father wrote a letter of instructions separate from his will. He gave me and my sisters each a copy. Among other things, he wanted us to divide up his collection of paperweights, which we did a few days after his funeral. There are three of us and there were fifty-two paperweights. He directed that the last one, the one left after we each took seventeen, was to be buried with his heart at a place of our choosing. He meant this literally, having made arrangements with a doctor friend to remove his heart at the funeral home before his body was embalmed, and freeze it until we were ready.
We laid the paperweights on a table. We had seen them all over the years: lions, Buddhas, griffins, geckos, cats, horses, castles, angels—stone, cast iron, brass, silver, glass, jade, malachite. They seemed, at least to me, like living things, waiting for us to decide where their next home would be. I handled these things for fifty years. My spirit is in every one of them. Make sure you leave them to your children. I am the oldest, so I picked first. My sister Jamie was the last to pick. Whatever she left on the table would be buried with my father’s heart. As to the burial site, he left it completely up to us, but he suggested we take a road trip. Have some fun, he said.
We decided to bury my father’s heart at the top of Mount Atalaya, near Santa Fe. He had taken us hiking there as kids. We dug a hole about three feet deep, took the frozen heart from the cooler that it had rested in for the journey, slipped it out of its Ziploc bag, and dropped it into the hole. Jamie had deferred her decision until the last moment. Adrienne and I normally would have given her some grief about this, but she seemed nervous about this decision falling on her, so we let it go. The two paperweights in her hand were the Goddess of Stone Street, a small stone statue that my dad found when he was a boy in a gutter where he was poking around with a stick looking for coins, and a bronze dragon that he felt protected him from what he called bad juju. What he meant was people who had ill will toward him or wanted to do him harm. Jamie dropped the dragon on top of the heart—which was already starting to sweat in the heat—and we filled in the hole.
We had quite a bit to drink that night, as you can imagine. It’s not every day that people do things like bury their father’s frozen heart, after driving it across the country in an ice-filled cooler for three days. Back at our motel, shitfaced, we had a last drink and were dead asleep in under ten seconds. In the middle of the night I was awoken by a sharp, cracking noise. I leaned on an elbow and saw Adrienne standing near the bed she was sharing with Jamie. She flicked on a lamp and looked over to the front window. What? I said. Adrienne was now reaching down. What? I repeated. The Goddess must have fallen, she said. She held her hands out. In each palm was half of the Goddess of Stone Street, which Jamie must have put on her night table, too close to the edge. I smelled smoke then and looked toward the window, where sparks were shooting out of the room’s ancient heater and flames were starting to lick up the polyester drapes. They were near the ceiling in an instant. Jamie was still dead asleep. We got her up and ran out.
My father kept the Goddess of Stone Street on his night table as a kid. He had been having nightmares about being lost in a big city, running and running, but getting more lost, never getting to where he wanted to go. He said he assumed he was trying to get home, but could never get there, afraid and alone the whole time. After he put the Goddess next to his bed, the nightmares stopped. He later told me that he realized that his dream was not about him running to something, but running away from something, which he believed was death.
Jamie cemented the Goddess back together. She keeps her in her bedroom and the rest in her kids’ bedrooms. Mine I placed strategically around my house. Adrienne has hers on her desk at her office.
We don’t have nightmares, and we’re confident that our enemies, if we have any, are at bay.
We have each written letters of instruction to our kids.
My dad left us money as well, which we’ll happily spend, but the paperweights will last a long time, maybe forever, and have already proven that they’re priceless.
About Project 52/2015: I like to take pictures and I like to write fiction. This Blog will combine the two in what I am calling Project 52/2015, one of my images mated with a piece of very short fiction each week in 2015. Enjoy.