When my grandmother died decades ago, she left her breasts to me. It started slowly, almost imperceptibly. My breasts began to swell in size and volume as if they had infants to feed. But it’s been decades since I’ve had babies to nurse, and still they grew—large, pillowy, and pendulous. I’d rested my head on such breasts, and they’d offered me comfort and solace.

She gifted them in trust, in a genetic will, for me to use later when needed.

Soon after, my torso expanded, my once slim curves transforming to a square and sturdy middle. My inheritance from my long-dead grandfather.

Instinctively, the way a wild animal prepares for a difficult winter, my body readied.

It needed thickness to prevent it from buckling in sorrow and softness to cradle the sick.

A season of death was coming.

My mother was first. Aggressive bladder cancer, the doctor said. Diagnosis to death: twelve weeks. My hands did for her what hers had once done for me. They bathed her, dressed her, combed her hair, brushed her brow, and spooned warm broth into her mouth. My mother left me her hands. The ones I held throughout her illness. Now, I see them in mine: our slim fingers, the shapes of our nails, blue veins beneath thin skin that belies strength.

I spent the first anniversary of my mother’s death sitting by my husband’s death bed. Bad heart, brain bleed, sepsis. My mother’s hands held his hands, my children pressed their grief-streaked faces against my grandmother’s breasts, my grandfather’s torso gave me fortitude to withstand the words: suspend life support.

Twelve days. Not even a fortnight. The length of time between my husband’s death and my brother’s death. A poetic word—fortnight. There was no poetry in my brother’s death. There was pain and fear and loneliness. A heart attack in his bathroom. Alone—without our mother’s hands or our grandmother’s breast for comfort.

Ten weeks. Five fortnights. The time between my brother’s death and the arrow piercing my father’s heart. An old heart. A wounded heart. Maybe it wasn’t an arrow at all. Maybe it was a thin dagger. Maybe it was a misericord. Maybe the season of death finally showed mercy. An honorable death stroke ending an elderly knight’s agony over the loss of his wife’s hands and his son’s face.

I see him now, my father, in the wrinkles around my eyes, and the set of my mouth. My brother keeps him company there in the shape of my nose. My dead have taken over my body. I see them daily. My grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, brother. The one missing is the one whose body I want the most.

I see no traces of my husband. I want his breast, his torso, his hands, his eyes, his mouth. God, do I want his mouth. I ache, and want, and look, and nothing. No part of him has come to reside in my body.

Then I see my children. Our children. Children who aren’t children—a strong young woman and an equally strong young man—and I realize he left his body to them.

He’s in their faces, in their eyes and brows. He’s in their hands, and body, and heart.

He didn’t leave himself in trust to them. He willed himself immediately and directly. Because in their grief, they need him now.

And, if I look carefully and steadily at my children, I catch glimpses of myself—then I know we’re all together—my dead, my husband, and me.

Aracelis González Asendorf was born in Cuba. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Kweli Journal, The Adirondack Review, Puerto del Sol, The Acentos Review, Litro, The South Atlantic Review, Saw Palm, Black Fox Literary Magazine, The Hong Kong Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review and elsewhere. Her stories have been anthologized in All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, 100% Pure Florida Fiction, and Home in Florida: Latinx Writers and the Literature of Uprootedness.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore