The ashes scattered and danced on the calm surface of the Rock River. After a quiet minute Cynthia squeezed his hand and whispered:
“But this is probably illegal, right?”
Oliver didn’t answer. Clutching his other hand was her son Jimi, now a stocky eight-year-old, and Oliver had no desire to go beyond this moment.
“Right?” She asked again.
Jimi broke free and scampered a few yards farther across the bridge, the better to watch the last of the ashes as they disappeared into the elements. Oliver turned to her and kissed her forehead. He said:
“Lady, I am indeed a real lawyer, and I’m here to tell you there’s nothing ‘probably’ about it – we have committed an exquisitely illegal act.”
“Well, then, I’ll just tell them it was my lawyer’s idea.”
“Great plan. That should work.”
They walked to Jimi. River gulls swooped in and out of the afternoon sun, their shadows on the water as graceful as their true selves in the air.
“Mom, once Grandma Millie and I saw an eagle here, a real eagle!”
“I remember, sweetie, because you wrote me a letter all about it. I still have it. I’ll always keep it with my most-important-papers.”
Oliver thought of another most-important-paper that would be waiting for them back in Janesville, the one that awarded him guardianship of Jimi. They would pick it up from the courthouse on Monday before driving Cynthia back to the women’s prison in Taycheedah. Her funeral furlough ended Monday at midnight and they were not going to be late. She still had four months on her ticket and nobody wanted an extension.
Millie had been his client for a year, a remarkable grandma taking care of the fatherless little boy while his mom served two years for selling dope. Marijuana, in fact. Nothing else. Now his client was dead and he was in charge of Jimi. They had taught him nothing of this back in law school.
“Hey,” he said, “did I ever tell you about my buddy Sean? The one who works out in Arizona?”
He gave them no opportunity to respond before beginning his story:
“Sean works in a tiny town, Sacaton, on the Gila River Reservation. After his first year they had a dinner in his honor and someone from the Tribal Council announced: ‘From this day forth, Sean shall be known as Walking Eagle. We are extremely grateful for his service.’
Sean was touched, he told me, and then the Judge of the Tribal Court stood up, and said ‘Of course, Sean, we chose that name because you’re so full of crap you’ll never fly.’
Everyone laughed, Sean told me, no one more than he did.”
Jimi giggled all the way back to the shore, followed by his mom and Oliver. There were worse things than full immersion in the music of laughter.
May it always be so, Oliver implored anyone who might be watching. Even Millie.
Tony Press tries to pay attention and sometimes he does. His short story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in 2016 (Big Table). He’d love for you to buy it. He lives near San Francisco and has two Pushcart nominations but not one website.