Amanda stood at the cliff’s edge, the urn holding GramGram in her hands. She didn’t look back when Jake closed the door to his truck or when he draped her jacket over her shoulders. Coming to her side, he shared her view.
“Are you sure this is the right spot?”
Closing her eyes, Amanda saw the mirror hanging on the wall across from her bed. She saw the reflection, one she recognized but one that wasn’t her own. The oval face she’d inherited through GramGram stared back at her, older, withered, worn from nearly a century of life and stretched over a now ashen skull. Sapphire blue eyes blazed in GramGram’s sunken face, brighter and more intent than they had been when she was alive, than they did in the face Amanda should have been seeing.
Shuddering, she traded the urn to slip her arms through her jacket’s sleeves and stared into the sea.
Jake tilted his head. “Do I have to ask again?”
Amanda dragged her gaze to the urn. The sloped, silver sides gleamed in the light of the reddening sun, shadows warping in the etched rings and on the reflective surface.
“I think it is.”
On the urn’s curves, the ghostly face reappeared, one she saw when she closed her eyes, the one she’d seen in each motel mirror during their cross country trek, in windows, in silverware, in the visor of Jake’s truck. Gazing into those blue eyes long enough brought the demand Amanda had heard on the first of what had become a month of sleepless night’s.
I need to see the sun set in the Pacific.
GramGram’s voice had started soft, downy, kind. Nights after the funeral she became louder, more commanding. Her tone had escalated, her pitch growing sharp.
Amanda had laid awake, waiting for her to speak and jolted each time GramGram’s pleas came. Problems at work had led to problems with Jake until Amanda finally divulged what she’d been seeing, hearing.
Jake had taken it well compared to Dad, but perhaps because he’d seen more of the symptoms, seen her hands shaking, the bags under her eyes, held her when tears of fear and fatigue leaked free.
Regardless, the guilt for sneaking the urn off Dad’s mantel still burned her cheeks. Even Jake had been surprised when she’d showed up at his apartment, GramGram in hand.
A vacation had been in the plans, a date, however, never set. The time seemed chosen for them.
Piling into his truck, they’d set off west. By their first night, GramGram’s voice had quieted. She remained steady, persistent, but less prickly. Her reflection, though, watched on.
The look reminded Amanda of the first ballet recital GramGram had attended. Mom had beamed. Dad had clapped. GramGram had seemed to be waiting for more even as they bowed. She’d had same expectant expression at music concerts, plays, graduations. If she’d lived, Amanda suspected her wedding, whenever such a thing might happen, would have earned the same searching eyes, the hope for something more to occur.
Amanda met the eyes reflected in the urn again. They were patient, biding their time for something interesting, astounding, miraculous.
“Why this?” Jake swept his hand at the sinking sun and the expanse of water lapping at the cliffs and rippling off into the horizon.
“I’m not sure. I figure she’d seen everything else with Pappy.” Amanda hummed in thought and scrubbed a speck off the silver. “Maybe that’s why.”
“Why she was always waiting for something amazing from me and my brother, from Mom and Dad. We couldn’t have been as remarkable as the pyramids of Giza or Angor Wat, meditating with Tibetan monks or being indoctrinated into some Amazonian tribe.”
Jake grunted and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Sounds like she had quite a life.”
Amanda’s gaze slipped through the urn and her family’s kitchen came into focus complete with lime green linoleum, whitewashed cupboards with wrought-iron handles, and a stainless steel fridge dominated by the colors, places, and faces pasted on the opposing wall.
“We had this world map with postcards and photographs we’d received pinned at each place they’d been to.” Her words warbled and she swallowed the lump swelling in her throat. “She made us keep it up when she moved in. Dad had thought it would upset her. When he found Mom’s stuff he’d be glum or pissed for days. GramGram though would sit with her peppermint tea and stare at the menagerie she and Pappy had made. I’d always wanted to ask her stories about their trips but she seemed so content to sit, I never bothered her. I never heard them.”
Hugging the urn, Amanda kissed the polished lid. The mist of her breath evaporated and the gaze remerged.
“I hope this is what you wanted, GramGram.”
Dropping to her knees, Amanda nestled the urn in the short tufts of grass between her sneakers. She angled what she hoped might be the front at the view. After rising, she drifted back, sensing GramGram wanted space for something. Maybe Pappy.
The wind picked up, the heat of the day transitioning into night. Jake wrapped his arms around her, his chest against her back. She pulled tight and leaned into him.
The sun darkened, yellows passing through oranges, to fiery gold and scarlet. Clouds to either side stretched, the line between water and air colored in ribbons of the same hues. Below, the Pacific glimmered, an undulating plain of bright white flanked by black. Water and sky dimmed with each passing second, the ocean drinking the sun for another day.
Amanda waited until the orb’s top dipped and purples dominated the sky before tapping Jake’s arm. He squeezed, and then let her go.
She padded forward, as she had when she was little, intent on spying on GramGram with a friend or her brother on a date. Squatting beside the urn, she wrapped her arms around her bent knees and rested her chin on her jeans.
“Is that what you wanted GramGram?”
Wary of the face she might find in the reflection, Amanda shifted her gaze to the sky. Moonlight arc down, its glow brighter without competition from the sun. Silvered rays poured over her arms and upon the urn, and she spied the outline of features in the silver. Tears blurred the image, but she wiped them away and looked again, seeing herself, smiling.
“You both okay?”
She looked up at Jake, and then hefted the urn. Cupping it in her elbow, she pecked his cheek and hugged him close. He returned the embrace until she settled back on her heels and held up the urn so their faces, either smiling or concerned looked out from the concaved sides.
“See? It’s me again.”
He kissed the top of her head. “If you say so.”
She jerked back and clutched the urn. “You didn’t believe me?”
He shrugged. “I believed you thought this needed to be done.”
“And that was enough to bring you across the country?”
He pursed his lips and rubbed a lanky hand against the back of his head. “Well, yeah. And think about all the cool stuff we saw on the way.”
The road trip flashed through her mind, a mix of cities and small towns, strips of highway and back roads, endless fields, rolling hillsides, mountains rising into the sky, and a never-ending coastline.
“I guess we did.” She caught Jake’s eyes. “There’ll be more on the way back.”
Jake offered his elbow. “Then let’s get started.”
Amanda slipped her arm through his and cradled the urn at her hip. They made their way to his truck for the return journey, and whatever roads, trails, aisles, or lanes they’d walk along next.