Chris always said that he’d be buried in Brimstone Canyon. Truth be told, I always thought it would have been a lot sooner.
I parked my car several hundred feet from the site and began to walk. The path to the burial plot was long, winding, and made of dirt that cut through the tall grass. Rolling hills flanked either side of the unspoiled terrain. The canyon was named for the mining that was once done here. They pulled a lot of metal and minerals out of the earth, and they had a tendency to react with flames if dropped together. Most of the time, the utmost caution was used. But deadlines and quotas sometimes called for corners to be cut.
Chris was a casualty of such a short cut. He was not killed on that day. No, that was nearly ten years ago. But it did steal his life. The haste resulted in an explosion. Chris said it felt like an atomic blast. He had burns over seventy percent of his body. His face was disfigured so badly that he could hardly move what remained of his mouth to speak.
After several painful procedures, they restored his gab, and some other ranges of motion, but he was still so limited. Then the bills came. Through deceit and intimidation, the insurance company forced him to accept a settlement that was insufficient. This piece of land was part of that settlement.
Chris became increasingly depressed. On several occasions, he implied that he thought it would have been better if he had died in that explosion. I tried to comfort him. What sister wouldn’t? But it was never enough. He had planned this funeral long ago.
On the top of the next hill, on the small parcel of land that my brother had owned, that I suppose I now own, I saw a duo in overalls, with dirt on their faces, and shovels in hand. They had been contracted to dig the grave, lower the coffin, and fill it over again. A shutter ran up my spine. How could someone chose such a line of work? To stare at death each day, to be it’s slave.
Next, I saw the preacher. I was surprised that he had come. Once, many years ago, after the accident that stole his face, Chris had created a scene in church. He cursed God for his situation, desperately shouted obscenities, and said unkind things to the many that attempted to console him.
He lost both his faith and his friends that day. I found that I was the only one in attendance. What a shame. My brother may have pushed everyone away, but he deserved to be remembered.
He had put so much thought and effort into this day. The scene certainly did captivate. His casket lay closed under the shade of a lone willow on the hillside. A simple rose bush had been planted to mark the spot. Tied to the stems was a less permanent bouquet of black balloons.
My seat stood out, white against the green of the grass, and contrasted with the deep blue sky. A few puffed white clouds came to observe the service, but left just as quick. How quickly the earth had healed itself from that day. I wept, sad that my brother did not do the same.
The Reverend spoke some words. I’m not sure what they were, in my despair, I could not make them out. Through the blurred wetness of my eyes, I glanced at the photo that sat atop the coffin. It was a picture of my brother from a time before the accident.
I smiled as I looked at his unmoving face in the frame. There was my brother. My real brother. Not the man with scars. Not the person who had become so bitter and jaded that he was a terror to be around. His image smiled at me, as if he had just heard a great joke. His green eyes glistened in that photo, and seemed to stare into me. He had hair then. He had skin. What a perfect reminder of the man he had once been. What a great gift he left to remind me of this. I would always think of him this way. The way he was.
The priest finished a prayer and cut off a balloon, then handed it to me.
“Your brother wanted you to take this balloon, think of him, and let it go.”
I did as instructed. I held it tight to my chest, hugging it tightly against myself, then releasing it into the air. As it floated after the clouds, it carried away my pain with it. I felt a weight lifted from me. I watched that balloon drift higher and higher, until the small black speck against the sky was gone.
He had been lowered into the ground as I watched the balloon. At first, I was upset that I did not get to say goodbye to his body. But then I realized, I had just said goodbye to his soul. He did not want me thinking of him as buried in the ground. No, he wanted me to remember him flying free above the earth.
I’ll never know if this means he regained his faith in his time of death, or if he was just doing what he could to help me, as I had tried so hard to do for him.
The ceremony was over. I embraced the priest, and he consoled me in return. As I made my way back to the car, I still felt lighter. The sorrow I had known on the journey here was gone, and in it’s place was relief. I knew he was happier now. He no longer had the restrictions of his body that had so poisoned his mind. He was at peace. And finally, so was I.