My husband says he wants to be buried by the sea, like Neruda, so when his eyes can’t see the ocean anymore, his body would still be close to it. I like the sea too, but find that all the bodies left on the shore start to smell rotten; seashells and crabs and fish torn into pieces by seagulls. I’m not certain I’d want this kind of burial for my own body. I prefer a place more warm and dry, so my bones can let go, expand and disintegrate. A place more like the desert.
As we walk by the fisherman, who sits on the hot sands cross-legged opening shells he’s just caught and pulling out the mussels one by one, I have to look away. He offers us a raw mussel at the palm of his hand. A tiny curved creature with no limbs and what seems to be an open wound in the belly.
“No, no, gracias,” Sam says, pulling me away.
The fisherman insists.
I sip at the hot tea in my hand to overcome the strong smell of fish entering my nostrils. We got hot water at a local restaurant. There was a birthday party. I lost track of time watching the kids that were running around laughing. The laughter made me cry. I stayed there until Sam had to come and find me.
We were driving along the coast in Northern Chile. The plan was to keep going until the pain disappeared, but then we saw these little shrines built on the side of the roads at almost every curve, every sudden drop or protruding rock, in all shapes and sizes, decorated with crosses, flowers, teddy bears, plastic bottles and cheap statues of the virgin holding baby Jesus. Once we saw a few of them at a shore with wild waves. Someone out there wanted to remember where these bodies had died, and wanted someone else to bear witness to their pain.
It was Sam’s idea that we put the ashes in a jar and let the sea keep it. The sea, he says, is like the womb; safe and dark and all-encompassing. He was also the one who asked for the body to be cremated. He insisted even after he was told that most people let the hospital make appropriate arrangements. I didn’t go to the crematorium. My stitches bled and I waited in bed until he returned with a jar that he left on the coffee table.
I hold tightly to the tea as we pass the fisherman and continue along the shore. My skirt wraps around my bare ankles. I remember the many castles I built on the sands as a young child, all swallowed by the dark waves the next day.
“I don’t know where to bury it,” I tell Sam.
He puts his arm around my waist, bringing my body closer to his.
A moment later, three skinny half-naked bodies appear in the horizon. They run towards the ocean and dive right into the tall waves without hesitation. I wait for their small heads to resurface before I can breath again. Their laughter is so loud that all the seagulls flap their wings and take to the sky.