She and I descend into the valley with my father’s ashes. I watch the hills in the distance rising up, disappearing, and she steadies me, points out each rock underfoot, each handhold. Each winding path: branches stretching into the air, rabbits skipping to their holes, buckwheat flowers thick as wool.
We hear the trickle of water at the valley bottom. There’s plenty of shade, she says, wiping the sweat from her face and then mine. We find a clearing bordered by trees and the river, and I dig the hole as she holds the cigar box where my father rests. Her new ring taps against the redwood.
My father and I were men of the forest. His was a life of blood and fur, of skins and meats, knife blade to bone. Mine was roots and ferns, the leaf stems pressed between pages, the sketches of deer shucking their antlers against trees.
I remember our only hunt together. The rifle that felt heavy, clumsy in my hands, eventually relinquished from me, his head shaking, but my relief, my shaking fingers, the smoke unfolding from the barrel.
Into the hole: the box, his skin and hair and tongue gathered as dust, all covered over in dirt.
Atop the grave, she places scattered grass, stones, and a marigold.
She asks, Was your father a good man?
I remember that night when we came home with no meat or bullets, he put his hand to my chest to stop me. He said, Stay out here. Keep your arms up.
My mother eventually found me, my arms shaking and my hands raised to God. She wiped my face clean, rubbed the blood back into my palms and shoulders, and sent me to bed.
My father came into my room that night, his breath heavy with cough syrup and gin. He whispered to me without waking my brother, words I understood but couldn’t put together.
Someday, he said.
Where will you be, he said.
You’ll be okay, he said.
We never spoke of these words, and he never put a rifle in my hands again.
I wrap an arm around her, bring her hip to mine. He would have liked this place, I say, He would have liked you.
We turn to go, our shadows leaning against each other in the noon sun.
ALVIN PARK lives and writes in Portland. He’s associate fiction editor at Little Fiction. His work has been featured in The Rumpus, The Mojave River Review, Wyvern Lit, New South Journal, and Wildness. His parents are Korean. He has a long way to go.