The Return

Art by Sebleh Afla

Writing by Keemia Sarafpour

In the kitchen, my father sits in his wooden chair
garlanded by white orchids 
like a skull in a Renaissance vanitas canvas. 
My mother murmurs soft prayers as she pours us tea,
rubbing circles in my father’s back as she would
whenever my brother and I were held in the clutches of a nightmare. 
This should be momentous, but all I can do is drown in the various sonorities:
the samovar gurgling tenderly, my mother’s breathy, lilting vowels, 
the hummingbirds vibrating erratically in our garden,
the ethereal drop of a creamy petal on the counter beside my father’s limp hands. 
Even the grief rolling in my own head, a black pearl so smooth it cannot be of this earth.
I hate that I envision it as beautiful, that I’ve found magic in my grandfather’s passing. 
My father’s eyes well and I look away, shame burning my throat. 
“It was time.” 
My mother whispers, our joint hands coming together to weave a tapestry around his quivering shoulders,
joints-and-tendons-and-ligaments-and-cartilage-and-knuckles-too-raw intertwined like thread. 
My father opens his mouth, a gaping, choked, helpless silence crawling out,
and his gaze drops to the box in his lap. 
No words will favor him, I can tell, and our tapestry grows stronger, 
mother and I protectors over my huddled father, doing what women have always done—
“You’ll see him again,” I find myself saying, against any will or consciousness, “because Love is stronger than death.” 
Later, my father no longer shakes, has found his voice, and stands upright. 
The box is once again in his hands, but this time, the orchids and the kitchen table and the hummingbirds and the skull looming beneath his skin are no longer with us. 
Instead, he is flanked by the sea, Gaia’s greatest pride, 
and waves lap soothingly against his ankles. 
“It’s time.” 
He says, and beside me I feel my mother’s smile like a fresh stroke of paint.
He glides toward the shoreline, each step encouraging the water to hug his figure,
and this time all I hear is stillness. My father reaches out his hands and so lovingly unclasps the box. 
With the next gale, my grandfather’s essence is drank up by the air, swirling all around us like the strength of his voice,
able to carry across any crowd, 
and my father’s tipped face turns toward us, his hands empty,
having returned to the Earth what was once its own.