Her name was Saffron, spelled like spice, and when spoken, the sound bloomed hymns.
“Ain’t she a looker,” Tazzy would say. “Her face cheeks are caramel flushed with porcelain rouge.”
He kept Saffron in his left pocket, over his heart, where she folded and creased into one day emotional scars.
Our Taz was the target of banter, after all, he was such a handsome and happy devil, envied with someone so lovely tossing and turning at home.
But Taz, like most superheroes in his day wasn’t perfect from feather to flight. He loved, “Killin’ him some bad guys,” and he wasn’t quite done.
It was in Hue, Viet Nam, where he “Caught him a bullet.” That’s the day he was given a new name, #3 in his battalion to be chosen by the Viet Cong. The enemy said he was worthy, a warrior. Many had died before chopsticks and rice, met death hungry, but most thought that a small price to pay for the beginning of freedom.
You’d think when her oldest, Shakeem, went missing, near Kandahar they could have waited a little longer. On that dreadful day, a Major with a satellite phone told her he was gone. Saffron kept screaming into the tunnels of static, “Gone where, gone where?” She was upset that before the facts were all known, she started receiving her son’s military insurance and parcels of barely worn uniforms, and a fabric triangle, in folds of red, white and blue. With time, she remembered what the Major actually said, “He disappeared shortly after his column was hit by a massive I.E.D.” She brainstormed his tongue must’ve been weary, too exhausted to annunciate the vernacular of death.
Looking back, that first winter following Shakeem’s death, she wore red shawls as if woven of rage. In summer, she paid the sitter in cash with blood money. She never complained. Those, long hot nights, she’d fuck anyone, including sailors and cops. Hell, she thought, “I’d fuck Judas if he hadn’t swung from a rope.” Grief can make you change like that.
Saffron, in her lifetime, could never forget, or dismiss the smell of 21 bullets. Now she stored two triangle flags in her chestnut cabinet of heed.
Death made her a student of war. She’d always loved literature, stories, but now she could own them.
Raising Orion was not easy nor was being alone.
Orion, which means hunter-warrior, became her sole reason for her existence, at least in her God Damned world, where the blood of grief was still sticky and wet.
When Orion turned eighteen, Saffron’s healing and whoring came to an end. Hell, everything stopped.
“Mom, after all you named me after a constellation. You named me Orion the warrior, the hunter.”
Saffron answered respectfully, “I also gave you life, and gave into to your father and older brother, where did that get them?”
Under a calm reading lamp, after hearing the news, she returned to the essay on the Battle of Thymbra. She thought the name, could have been a poem of three words. 100, 000 men died that day. It was in 547BC, before Christ was born. She mused, “We can’t blame him for all of the wars.” She read that the Battle of Thymbra was the largest it the Lydian-Persian Conflict.
Saffron, still in shock from the week before, recalled the news. In the vast spring fields near Aleppo, Syria, not far from the Lydian War, Orion fell from the sky. It was fitting that her second and last beautiful child died in an early and glorious morning, under the softness of sunrise light, beneath ceaseless blue skies, a place where God chose blood to water the earth. Saffron reflected on Plato, “Only the dead know the end of war.”
The evening she was told of Orion’s death, she paused and composed, filled her lungs, shortly after the neighbors reported a murder. Saffron watched herself scream from somewhere afloat near Orion’s stars. Then she blacked out onto the floor. When she woke, she somehow clawed her way into her bedroom.
In Haiti, widows worship stars, especially constellations. They say if you look hard enough in the darkness, they glow like X-rays of skeletons you can choose to remember or bury at daylight.
At Arlington, Saffron was told they were all heroes. Three remains her lucky number, that hasn’t changed, in spite of. Three flags, three coffins she watched being lowered and swallowed to ground. Three soldiers with seven rounds each shot twenty-one times.
For the balance of days, Saffron washed and ironed their clothes. She never turned off NBC. After all she begun to think Shakeem was missing again.
Long after retirement, when most of her money and memory was gone, she’d search the pages, of her worn thesaurus. Saffron folded the corners, the important ones that soiled like earth, or burial grounds.
Her loving neighbor Sarah, who she’d hardly knew shared her love, kindness, and caring. But Saffron’s nurse said, “Caring can only go so far.” Not long after, Sarah drove Saffron to the Alzheimer’s unit at Waterford by the Bay, in Brooklyn.
As one year folded over the other, Saffron whittled her marked and worn Thesaurus, now nearly empty of words, to the floor. Staff noticed her obsession with folding seemed to calm her. So they all agreed to a plan.
In the season of endings, the kind and knowing day room staff alternated her three triangle flags on her lap. And like her beloved Thesaurus, she’d search in the seams, and folds, even in the tight creases for her well-deserved synonyms of grief.
For hours on end, her fingers became bird dogs that sniffed for rusty autumn quail. Her intent was to flush them from the ditches, and tangles of thistles, even from the lavender of Meditation thyme called Thymbra near the Palace of Wings. Her expression remained pleasant in her fields of dreams, delighted that everything with wings had already flown.