Gathering up the Bones of the Deceased

Flash Fiction by Hilary Wilson

Still hot from the flames, my father’s bones lie on a silver metal table. The bones are made brittle by the fire. They’re easier to crush that way.

All of the attendees take turns picking a piece of bone with their chopsticks, passing them down the line. Because me and my two sisters are our father’s daughters, it’s our duty to do most of the bone picking. Even though the sight of her husband’s skeleton renders her unable to stand, our mother watches intently from a nearby chair as we work from toe to scalp.

My sisters and I do this for our father.

Not only because this is Japanese tradition, but because it’s something that we want to do.

For him.

For our father.

My father.

Wails of the living fill the air.

The Buddhist priest chants The Heart Sutra to help drive away our father’s spirit from the place where he died.

Silently, my younger sister passes me a piece of bone with a pair of long chopsticks. I pass that piece to my older sister, who puts the piece in a wooden funeral box. Our father’s death name is written on the box in delicate handwriting. The characters in his death name are very old and very rare. Only a few people will know how to read it. Now he can’t be called back to earth.

My older sister grinds down the bones with a wooden pestle. The powder mixes together and soon our father is simply dust.

Blown away on the wind, he will find a new home among the stars.


Hilary Wilson is a Canadian writer.

Image courtesy of NASA via unsplash.

Also published on Medium.

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