by Erin Jamieson
Though our family lives in Ulaanbaatar, we knew we couldn’t bury Aab there. Not under the smoky hue that clogged the city skyline. Not beyond the ashy streets, the same streets my father swept for ten hours a day, six days a week, as long as I have been alive.
A week before his death, my father told us he wanted a sky burial. So his spirit could be released, he said. He wasn’t a practicing Buddhist but he believed, as many Mongolians do, that the body becomes an empty vessel upon death.
It was also a selfish request. A request that means my frail mother will have to travel to the Gobi so his body can be lain out in the open.
It’s easy to believe that as my aging mother and I begin the long trek to the Altai Mountains, the northern half of the Gobi. Aab’s skin feels like a pig’s bladder: waxy, membranous, cool to the touch. After only a few hours a network of deep purple paint his long toes, his calloused hands, his stubborn chin.
And then I notice it: something clutched in his left hand, balled into a fist, tight already with rigor mortis. I consider trying to pry his fingers away but my stomach seizes and instead I vomit. My mother asks if I am okay and I do not answer. I am thirty three years old and I cannot bear this.
There is not much left to do. This is how I imagined it would be, from the day we learned Aab was drying. My mother’s faithfully lined eyes, her ability to cry silently, the adoration as she swoops down for a final kiss on her husband’s mottled forehead.
It is beautiful here, the type of beautiful that makes your chest ache. It is true what they say about the Mongolian sky, here in the Gobi. How it seems to extend into infinity, how you can imagine it never ends. A blue that is piercing, that seeps inside your bones and stays with you until your last breath.
In a few days, carrion and vultures will decompose my father’s body for him, taking pieces of him and spreading it in their intestines. Slowly pecking away at the vessel that once held the man who taught me how to fish, how to hunt for marmot. The man who trusted me to choose my own husband, when he himself had been in an arranged marriage.
The man who broke my heart with the locket I know he holds now, the locket that is not my mother’s.
He did not mean to die that way. But none of us mean to die a certain way. We can only mean to live a certain way and it seems fitting that his body will be given new life in things that fly, that can carry these burdens in the endless skyline.
Erin Jamieson is currently finishing her MFA at Miami University, and will pursue a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Louisiana in the fall. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Flash Frontier After the Pause, The Aquarian, and Blue River Review.