There is a jar, an old canning glass jar, maybe six by three and clean as the day it was made. It's full of small rocks that Stella and I have picked out from Margot's River over the last year, at the spot where her ashes first entered into the earth. There are some faded black stones, sharp and pointy and ugly. They lie at the bottom of the jar, like the dark foundation of grief. There are a few small white stones strewn about, little gems that are often hidden in the water, under larger rocks or branches. The kind you have to search for with diligence, and then work to get them out, getting your feet wet, moving debris out of the way.
Most of the stones that fill the jar are black and white, both colors colliding off one another like shadows. The hues unexpectedly come together beautifully, the darkness and lightness, the gloom and the hope, the joy and the heartache. There is one particular large stone, of the black and white variety, that currently lies at the top of the heap, the one we picked out on her birthday.
There are other things in her corner.
A tea light candle inside an old glass vase. The hundredth, or maybe the thousandth one that has been lit for her. A tiny medicine bottle with an equally tiny wildflower. A photograph of water and sky. A necklace and handmade ornament with her name stamped onto them.
A small wooden hope chest sits on the shelf, just across from the rocks, in front of the picture, as near to the candle as it can be. It was a gift from my mother, from Budapest. It's brown and ornate with a copper colored clasp. Inside is my M.
Little gray specs of her, white bone fragments, the ashes, my most treasured possession.
I father Stella by talking to her, feeding her, changing her, teaching her, showing her, by wrapping my arms around her whole body and hugging her as tight as I possibly can. I Father Stella by whispering in her ear every night the same phrase since the evening she was born. You are my favorite girl in the whole world.
I father Margot by cleaning.
I carefully lift up sacred objects and dust underneath them. I spray and wipe the glass frame until it shines. I scrub the rocks until they glisten. I attentively hang her necklace so her name is facing out instead of in. The dried up wax gets picked at and pulled out until the vase is clean and ready for more. I wipe and dust and scrub her space because there is little else to do.
Cleaning and cleaning, always cleaning.