“Spring Caskets” - One of Two Second Place Winners of the CWA Summer Flash Contest

By Maureen Sauvain O'Connor

     I feel buried in the St. Patrick's Day crowd in downtown Chicago, so I head for our hotel room on an upper floor of the Sheraton, while my Irish husband comes alive in the vibrant sea of green bodies winding along Michigan Avenue. Our window faces the Chicago River, and I see for the first time, that it’s true—they really do dye the river an emerald green.

     I sit, alone and content, watching the tour boats crammed with people dressed in green and orange, floating down the sun-dappled-green river. My husband, an architecture buff, is on one of those boats dressed in his Republic of Ireland soccer shirt, his white curls sticking wildly out from under his herringbone cap.

     I can see the water's walkway lined with two rows of concrete planters filled with nascent soil—brown and wheat-colored caskets. In a month, maybe sooner, green limbs will stretch up and through the crusty grave and burst into color.

     I am reminded of the hole, barely visible, in the garden atrium of St. Rita's church, into which the priest poured my father's ashes. It was late Spring and the garden was a eulogy of color and scent.  Hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils were a welcome distraction and, as the priest prayed, I imagined the dusty souls of all those interred ashes tending the gardens below, gently urging the stalks to push through the earth's layers and blossom.

     Then, there is always the earlier losses that lurk behind any new grief. When my baby daughter died, I slid the shrunken shell of my heart into the coffin, beside her small body, before they lowered it into the ground.  It slowly resurrected over these twenty-some years, artery by artery, and she is woven into every one of my veins.

     I notice the tour boat pulling into its miniature dock. I breathe deeply and tell myself, “Be here, now.”

     There is a flow of passengers onto the walkway and then the stairs that lead to Michigan Avenue. I notice someone looking up at our towering hotel. Perhaps it’s my husband searching for our window. I wave, even though I know he can’t see me.

     Two gulls fly in unison above the river. Their large white bodies glisten in the afternoon sun, while their dark green shadows float on the river below. All grace and beauty, they glide above the water, then disappear. I ache to be with them.

     A lone seagull, this one larger than the others, rests on one of the river’s abandoned pilings, then flapping and filling her wide wings with air, she lifts and soars towards the Michigan Avenue bridge.

     “Wait for me,” I whisper. “Wait!”  

     She halts, reverses, and with a plaintive cry heads for my hotel. I slide open the large pane of glass and climb onto her back.