The Only One
BY JOANN NICHOLS
Flakes of you
So surreal. I’m rotating a value-size pharmacy bottle in my fingers and the ashes inside tumble like the sea I’m standing near.
How could these gray flakes be you?
Just a little spark in the amber glow of the plastic vial.
My sister, the only one.
My muscles are suddenly chaos.
I shift from side to side longing for a way out of knowing that you’re gone.
I can’t dump you in the ocean.
You never learned to swim.
Is this one from the face I see in the mirror?
This one—from the cancer that snatched you?
This little lump—is it from the hands that welcomed my babies and helped
Momma to a tranquil death?
Daddy’s medical questions, our brother’s nasty tricks—you were the
Flakes of you.
None scatter as I twist off the cap
Even though the bottle is completely full.
One from your leg twisted with polio.
One from the heart in the voice on the phone—
The only one I’d call.
This gray particle—is it the part of you I don’t know,
The savvy D.C. businesswomen and red tape vaulter?
Or the tiny striped one—is that my part?
The ecstatic aunt who embroidered my first born’s christening gown.
Oh, here, the piece that always insisted on spending extra to get the honeycomb centerpiece, even though the two of us could never find “tab B”
In psychology it’s said that each episode of learning forms an actual physical piece of the brain.
Is a memory then, a grayish sliver of dusty ash?
You, then, are the sum of all these bits and the years we share.
Is this the synapse that knew I was afraid of the open closet?
Is this the laugh that rings in my own?
That last day, I snuck in to see you.
You stroked the length of my arm and promised that there were no goodbyes between us.
Well, Smarty pants, what do you call this?
Goodbye to the moments with your grandson.
Goodbye to the weddings you would have dressed fabulously for.
Goodbye to the two of us as old ladies, remembering.
But only to things around us, not between us.
Flakes of you up to the brim.
No room for “if onlys” or “might have beens”
I bend close to the water, still trying to protect you.
Your flakes make this beach unique, then roll away.
“I love you,” I mouth.
Not “loved” but “love”.
The foamy ocean laps into my shoes,
So I turn to find someone else who knows
How it feels to not be “the two of us”.
But you, my sister, you’re the only one.