Anja’s ashes rest in a round ceramic pot on the dresser in our bedroom. The pot is a pale, springtime green, with a pattern of dark swirls and on the little lid that lifts off there is a black bird that serves as a handle. I used to kiss my hand every time I walked by and lay it on that bird, but I don’t do that anymore. Last night, when I was changing M into his pyjamas he stood on the bed and pointed at the bird. ‘Da! da!’ he said, wanting me to notice, and then he put his hand to his mouth and blew that bird a kiss. ‘The bird?’ I said, and he smiled and pointed and I lifted him up and carried him to the dresser and he leaned over and blew another kiss. This evening, we did it again, said goodnight to his sister, Anja, just as we’d said goodnight to big sister E: with a kiss.

* * *

We went with friends to a beach we haven’t been to before. As a kid, I went there all the time, but it was E’s first time and of course, M’s, too. The kids all played so nicely together, splashing in the warm, shallow water and inventing elaborate games on the beach. M, who missed his nap, grew crabby, crawled into my lap for some milk and fell asleep in seconds. I held him, watched the bigger kids, talked about really Big Things with one of my closest friends, soaked up what will likely be one of the last real beach days of our summer, and in that part of my heart that is permanently reserved for one activity only, missed my girl. As we packed up, I pocketed a clam shell, smoothed ridges on its white outer side, creamy swirls on its inner. For the Anja jar. I noticed when we arrived home and I pulled the jar off the shelf to drop the new shell in how heavy it’s grown over the years. Over the years. Such a gentle, benign phrase and a part of me feels it more gently now, too. Now that it’s been years. But also: how can it have been years? How did this collection of stones, shells, marbles, pieces of sea glass, interesting bits of twig grow so big? How can she have been gone long enough for us to have accumulated so many of these tokens of our love, our wanting? Think of Anja, pick up a stone; that is what we do, and the weight of that jar is a solid, heavy reminder of all the many days that have passed without her. Until I decide to look up the exact number of days we’ve lived without her and discover it’s been 950. 950 days since that doppler ranged across my belly finding nothing, and suddenly I am ashamed that the jar is so light, though I know there is no jar that could hold 950 days worth of my missing her.

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