This was written in June of 2016 from prompts I’m hazy about – I think striped shorts or bathrobes might have been the prompt — or perhaps it simply had to include three boys.
The Boys Who Matched
The boys wore open bathrobes and striped shorts. The three of them stood at the prow of our boat, Pam’s Promise, solemn and silent.
Ben, the youngest, stood a head shorter than his brothers. His hair had bleached from mouse brown to blond over the summer. He was as dark as a berry from running through summer days on sturdy legs.
Nate, our middle boy was still growing. He was rawboned, all sharp angles and insatiable hunger. He was a locust swarm at the table and never left it fully sated.
The eldest, Matt, teetered on the precipice of manhood. He had the muscled build of a gymnast and stood taller than me by an inch, now. Matt was our quiet one. For all his physical power, he was a poet and philosopher.
Their mother had loved to dress the boys in matching outfits. Her sturdy Singer machine had buzzed through their infancy and childhood. When they’d been small, they hadn’t cared. One outfit was as good as the next as long as they could ride a bike or climb a tree in it. Once Matt had hit twelve, though, that had changed. He’d stubbornly refused to continue.
It was after the Foster boy had taunted him at a birthday party that things changed. Matt hadn’t yelled or slammed doors to make his point; he’d simply announced he was done with it and then dug in his heels. Matt’s brothers had always taken his cue and had quickly followed suit. They’d begun to grow up — to become individuals.
The bathrobes were a gift from their mother that past Christmas. Her last shopping trip.
All were downy white, but each had the boys’ initials embroidered on them in a different color: Matt’s in navy, Nate’s in hunter green, and Ben’s in maroon. On a whim, I’d bought the shorts from L. L. Bean a few weeks before. I thought Pam would like that.
My own shorts hung low on my hips. I’d lost weight, along with my wife, in the last six months. We’d always talked about dieting together. This hadn’t been the way we’d planned.
The full weight of her rested in the urn seated in the captain’s chair behind me.
At the end, she’d hardly weighed more than the insubstantial ashes inside. The cancer had been a rapacious flame, first burning away the fifteen pounds she lamented she’d gained since our marriage. Then it had greedily consumed the remaining weight of her slight frame along with her spirit and laughter.
I dropped anchor and stepped up to join our boys. The boat rose and fell in gentle waves like the soft lullabies Pam used to sing when she rocked our fretful babies through fevered nights.
When the sun finally broke over the horizon and painted the water orange and red, I unscrewed the lid of the urn. A soft, mournful note sounded in the mouth of the vessel as a breeze caught and stirred her ashes.
Pam had loved the ocean. I had promised her the boat and I had promised her we’d grow old sailing it together.
I had only been able to keep one of those promises.
The boys gathered handfuls of their mother with care and cast her into the waves — watched gravely as she dusted, then dissolve into them. I released the last of her along with the dreams of our future together.
We each threw flowers from the garden, Pam’s second love.
Ben threw a handful of dandelions. They floated in the water like miniature suns: bright, resilient, and hopeful. Nate threw a wealth of sumptuous birds of paradise: long, slim, and elegant. Matt threw Queen Anne’s lace: lacy, wild and complex.
Into the water I launched a corsage of stephanotis, the delicate, white flowers that had made up Pam’s bridal bouquet.
Their fragrance clung to my hands long after we left her final resting place.