Left Behind by Nancy Shaver

First place honours in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2020 Literary Contest

I rummage frantically through the trunk of the car. She’s not under the crumpled tarp, she’s not in the grocery bins, and is definitely nowhere to be found in the milk crate full of empty bottles. Panic rises in my chest as the situation becomes obvious.

I forgot my mother.

My sister turns away, kicking the gravel of the sun-baked parking lot in her heels, her lip curled in disgust. “You had one job”, she hisses.

“I think I had a little more than one job, Kristin!” I may be an idiot, but I’ve been doing way more than my share. Kristin glares and tosses her head in that ridiculous superior way of hers, but this is not the time or place to get into it.

We look over at the small crowd gathered on the grass as they mingle, chat, and slowly settle onto folding chairs.

“Do you realize how far some of these people drove to be here?” my sister snaps.

My brain spins as I try to figure out what to do. “There’s no time to go back and get her.”

“No, there isn’t,” Kristin mutters.

As the flautist begins her first piece, Don gets out of his car and ambles over. He pulls some paperwork from the inside of his suit jacket. “Good morning, ladies. I just have a couple of final details to review before –“

“We have a problem.” I hesitate, while Kristin scowls.

Don looks back and forth between us. He tilts his head to one side. “Oh my. Did you forget the urn?”

A pause. I nod, and feel the panic rising again.

Don reaches over and pats my arm. “Don’t worry about it. It happens more often than you’d imagine.”

“What?”

“It’s no problem at all. I have a spare in the trunk that I keep handy just for times like this.” He notices Kristin’s dubious expression. “It’s one of our higher-end urns, don’t worry,” Don purrs in his soothing professional manner. “So. What’ll happen is, I’ll tell my guy not to seal the niche in the columbarium after the interment. Next week sometime, you bring me Mrs. Colvin’s urn, and we’ll switch it out. No biggie.”

Kristin purses her lips. I think she’s a little annoyed to have such a workable solution.

I of course am relieved. “Thank you so much,” I gush. “Do you think we can, uh, keep it between the three of us so that –“

“Yes, of course,” says Don. “Definitely our little secret, nobody will know.”

The melodies of my mother’s carefully crafted playlist, as arranged for flute, wafts our way. I look over and see my Aunt Sandy staggering towards us, with my Dad closing in behind her.

“You didn’t forget the urn, did you?” she blurts in her usual mildly inebriated manner. I reach out to steady her.

“Nope. We have everything ready,” Kristin replies confidently.

Sandy’s eyes grow wide. “Did I ever tell you they forgot it at Bob Mosteller’s funeral? One of his kids left it back at the cottage. Nobody could believe it. What a nightmare –”

Don tries to take charge. “We’re just finishing up a few details here, and we’ll get things under way shortly,” he says, as he tries to herd Aunt Sandy and Dad back toward the folding chairs.

Dad is having none of it. He’s clutching a plastic sour-cream container, and starts tapping on it with a metal spoon.

“Is that Mom’s wedding silver?” I ask. He’s got some nerve. Mom would have never let him leave the house with that.

“It’s my wedding silver,” he replies. He pauses for dramatic effect, and gestures with the spoon. “I’m not leaving until I get a piece of your Mother.”

“What?”

His hands tremble slightly as he pries the lid off of the container. He pulls out a piece of paper and unfolds it, and begins to read. “Around four tablespoons. One tablespoon to be scattered at Outlet Beach. The water, not the dunes. One – “

“Oh yeah, the scatter list,” Kristin recalls.

“My mom was quite the organizer,” I tell Don.

“Absolutely,”, he croons. “Sir, we can definitely get what you need. But, not right here. We have to –“ he leans in and whispers, “keep it classy.” He takes Dad’s tub and nods. “Just leave it to me.”

“Of course, of course!” my father booms. He extends his elbow to Aunt Sandy, and they start to amble back towards the chairs. “I’m saving you girls front row seats,” he calls. “Hurry, don’t keep your mother waiting.”

Don waves over a cemetery worker who has been hovering at a respectful distance. He hands him the plastic tub and the spoon, and without a word the guy retreats. Don himself heads towards the gathering, turning to say “we’ll start in five, come on over once my guy finishes up. He’ll bring the urn.”

We wait. Kristin seems a little less tense now, and asks, “Do you remember where you left her?”

“I think so. I’m pretty sure she’s in the garage, on top of the snow tires.”

My sister snorts and cracks a smile. We both gaze over in the direction of the cemetery worker, and see him chiselling at some hardened dust under some cedar hedges with my Mom’s sterling silver spoon.

“Is that even ethical?” I muse.

“Mmmm … nope. But we’ll get it switched out long before any scattering happens.”

“Thanks to Don of the Dead.”

Kristin laughs. “You would be in such big trouble with Mom.”

“I know. I’m glad she’ll never know I lost her.”

Kristin pauses. “We all lost her.”

I roll my eyes. “Don’t try to play that mushy card with me.”

My sister laughs again. “Not yet. Anyway, we know where she is.”

“Right. She’ll be commanding a tighter ship than this one, wherever she is.”

The cemetery guy comes over, snaps the lid, and quietly hands us the tub and the spoon. We go to join our Dad.