The Professional Lover

“She was a Grande old dame,” locals claimed last night at the intersection of Green City’s quadrants, where Big River and the ghostly imprints of train tracks meet. I heard this phrase several times during the procession until it ended there, not far from where she landed when she jumped from the train, a most ridiculous spot in my opinion for the burning of her body. But it was good for tourism, of course, bookending one herstorical event with another. “She was a Grande old dame,” I heard again, and the culprit raised a pretend glass in a toast. The way that fool saw it, he was the authority on Aster Grande. “She was one of us,” he said, waving his arm in the air, “so we invited her for holidays and family gatherings since she had none of her own.”

Lies! Yet the tourists swallowed them whole. They snapped photographs of the pyre, of Aster in her veil, which was all that was visible of her beneath the violets we use to desensitize receptors in the nose. Let no one deceive you: The odor of death after a forty-eight hour wake is far from pleasant. The violets are a necessary touch and answer to no funereal aesthetic. Tell us more, tourists begged, is this ceremony family-friendly? Why does she wear that veil? Why not a burial? Where is the cemetery? Show us on this map of Green City, they demanded, while those without children in tow bought growlers of Grande’s Groves wild honey mead; crates of Grande’s Groves orange blossom honey in all its packaged forms—comb, raw, chunks, strained, heat-treated, whipped, crystallized; and every last jar of homemade Grande’s Groves marmalade.

Up and down Big River, as far as I could see, there were lit beeswax candles—Grande’s Groves candles—in the hands of womben and men and children. I saw hats and scarves worn by people in the north, but in the south there was no reason for such bodily protection. It was hotter than Hades in the southwest, desert quadrant where I stood before everyone, my left palm throbbing, heart thudding, dressed in mourning, sweating like a swine, and blown up to ridiculous proportions on the thirty-foot-tall, 130-foot-wide screen behind me. In my immediate vicinity, our local television crew’s equipment—lights, cameras, microphones, wires, and all kinds of cold, sterile-looking contraptions—loomed distastefully, capturing my every grimace. There was nothing I could do; I could not tear it down the way Aster would have wanted, but I was comforted in one small way for not everything was out of my control.

I leaned into the microphone and silence rippled, visibly, through the crowd. “I stand here tonight,” I said, looking at my feet, “on the very spot where Aster Grande herself stood on that herstoric day in 1898, her entire future before her and unknown. Beyond this, I am at a loss for words. The Green City Board of Directors has asked me—her long-time caretaker, her companion, her sole heir—to share with you the life story of our first founding mother, but the truth is that I would prefer not to. Aster was a private womban.” I turned and looked at the screen. I saw the back of my hat, my dress, my boots. At my heels, I could just make out the words fossilized in the earth:

Aster Grande + Lily Sylvia Hart