He stood in silence and stared at the hole in the ground. The ground was soft enough not to show the claw marks Aulis knew he would have seen there a few weeks before, before the rains had come. Before the rains made it easier. The hole was deep. He had made it that way.
Aulis thought he had buried his mother’s bones deep enough, that the grave had been hidden well enough under the brush and roots. He had been wrong. Obviously. The hole was now empty, the damp soil littering the entire area. The bone men had even taken the narrow cedar box, as they did when they came during the night and stole the past.
He should have burned her body. Aulis wasn’t an idiot. Everyone knew that and he had done it in the past. He had gone in his mother’s place. His mother had feared those flames though and begged him, as she began to waste away in mind, not to give her up to the fire. To do something else, anything else, to save her from that fate. Bury her deep enough that her soul could seep into the earth.
Kneeling down, he looked at his mother’s grave. There were some splinters left.
Perhaps the bone men had dug her out from underground.
“Mom! Look at me!”
She did, then looked back at her phone. Still no response. “Bet you can’t go higher.”
“Bet I can!”
She put her phone back in her pocket. “Not higher than me, little runt! Race you!”
He had a head start, but he was also a child with short limbs and she had been climbing all over things since she was his age. And she had never stopped. Being an adult had never stopped her.
She passed the treehouse about the time he reached it and pulled herself up to the branches above it. Finding a good place, the only place, to perch her butt, she waited for him to catch up with her. Panting, he tried to find a good place too, but without one she pulled him into her lap.
He shook his head and stood up. She rearranged her legs, balancing perfectly. He reached up into the air. “Higher than you.”
She laughed. “What? Imagine that. Brat.” She nuzzled the side of his face. He laughed, unable to keep his hands up above her head for very long. Not that it mattered. Who had really lost?
“Get down here this instant.”
He ignored her, like he usually did when he was irritated with her. She supposed it was an upside to his backtalk. He was too much like his father, at any rate. Mule-headed. She wished her son had been more balanced out with her own genes. Though her husband would be the first to tell her that she was rather stubborn too.
“Don’t make me come up there after you.”
Far gone were the days when she could climb up trees with a struggle, but do so little less for wear. Her ability was certainly nowhere near those who could almost run straight up the trunk, using hands only to help propel themselves directly up the surface. Nonetheless, she prepared herself.
“Your last warning!”
She could still see the edge of the fabric of his shirt, so he definitely was up there. With a sigh, she began to climb the tree. Groundwork had truly slowed her in this regard, but she wouldn’t let that stop her. When his father came home, he could be the one to drag their ungrateful brat down when he decided to get in a mood. Perhaps there was a better way of doing this, but she couldn’t back down now. She had already said she was coming up there after him.
Then her hand slipped.
He grabbed her wrist. “Mom!”
She directed her wry smile up at him. “Still in trouble, mister.”
His shock was replaced with relief, instead of any lingering irritation. In any case, he wasn’t ignoring her. She considered this exercise a success.