She was always difficult. It shouldn’t surprise me how she continues to cause problems for me even after her death. When Sheila left Ireland, she abandoned her troubles and our parents with all of their health issues. I’ve had to deal with all of it. I’m still juggling, feeling like a circus performer who keeps the crowd happy but is never the star of the show.

The empty baggage carousel stops rotating, but I don’t move. I close my eyes and breathe, thinking about sunny Marseilles. It wasn’t the magical place I recalled from childhood family holidays, but it was warm. What Irish person doesn’t love the sun, even if it makes us a little mad? Full sun to the Irish is like a full moon anywhere else.

“Where’s my bag?” asks a small boy. His mother shrugs in response, then glances at her watch.

“Only Aer Lingus knows,” I say with a smile; “They’ve lost mine, as well.” The tall glass windows of Dublin Airport showcase the stormy skies. Coming attractions for the rest of my life.

“I put my bottle of sand in my bag. Why did they lose it?”

“I don’t know, Colin. Sometimes life isn’t fair, but we can’t dwell on it,” his mother says.

“There was something important in my bag, too,” I say.

“But you’ve got a coconut,” he says, pointing at the object I’m cradling in one arm. It looks like the top of my sister’s fuzzy newborn head, and I recall the first time I held her. I was four. “Did you get it on your trip?”


Thirty years ago, Sheila and I threw a coconut into the Mediterranean and watched the waves pull it out to sea. We dreamed about mermen and all the places we’d go if we could escape like that coconut. Eventually Sheila made it happen for herself, but first she racked up a series of bad relationships. I keep ledgers for a living, and if I had one for her life it’d show her overdrawn everywhere people were involved. For years one of her exes phoned asking why Sheila chose the abortion over marrying him. I’d explain how Sheila wasn’t the marrying kind. Again.

“She’s a free spirit,” our parents explained; “It’s just who she is. She embraces life.” They knew Sheila wasn’t a saint, but her sins were always more forgivable than mine. Perhaps it’s why they required me to attend Sunday mass while Sheila slept off her Saturday night. I hated her for it.

“The sooner we file our missing bag reports, the faster the search will start,” I say, sounding exactly like responsibility personified.

“I don’t want to go home,” Colin says.
“He’s got a half-brother,” his mother says too quickly; “This trip was our time together without the rest of the family.”

“That sounds very nice,” I say.

“It never lasts,” Colin says. I immediately like him more; “Were you on holiday?”

“I was at a funeral. My sister’s. She died in France.”

“How did she die?” Colin sounds like he’s asking about the weather.

“I’m so sorry,” Colin’s mom says.

“She took too much medication,” I say; “It was an accident.” It’s what I’ll tell my parents, even though I know it’s not true. Sheila had left a note which included instructions to scatter her ashes on the Mediterranean along with a coconut so they could drift away together. I bought the coconut, then decided against theatrics.

“Medicine is bad,” Colin says, scrunching his nose like a badger.

“Do you know the difference between medicine and poison?” I say; “It’s the dosage. You have to get the amount right, and some people don’t.”

“Colin,” his mother says, grabbing his hand; “Let’s freshen up. Perhaps your bag will be here when we check again.”

“It was lovely meeting you,” I say to her and then turn to the boy; “Colin, you are just as special as your brother, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Always remember that.”

“You’re a nice lady,” he says and hugs me before his mother can pull him away. His cheek smells like fried onions and sausages, and it reminds me of Saturday mornings before Sheila discovered Copperface Jacks and all the other Dublin clubs.

I walk to the Aer Lingus desk and fill out the form, still thinking about Marseilles. It was dirtier than I remembered. Fishier. I know why my sister went there to die. Memories are powerful medicine, and very few of us get the dosage right. If I could buy a ticket to visit her in the afterlife, I would, but I don’t know if I’d lecture or hug her. The ghost of Colin’s hug makes me think I’d do the latter.

“Was there anything of value in your luggage?” the clerk asks.

“My sister’s ashes.” I set the coconut down on the desk.


“Nothing of value except my sister’s ashes, and I’m not sure you can place a value on those. I’d go so far as to say those are irreplaceable, don’t you think?”

“Why did you put human remains in your bag?”

“I followed the instructions on your website for transporting ashes,” I say, producing the cremation certificate and setting it on the counter next to the coconut. “Thanks for your concern. Now, how soon do you think you can locate my bag and get it back to me?”

The red-faced clerk picks up the phone and makes a show of doing his job. My eyes focus on the certificate, and I read Sheila’s name. She had been away for years, but this loss is new. She drifted. I stayed. I think about her ashes wandering through other airports on one last adventure before coming home. Perhaps when she’s found I’ll send her adrift with the coconut on the Irish Sea. Or maybe not. She may have been ready to die, but I’m not ready to let her go.


Amy Neftzger is the author of fiction books for both adults and children. She has also been published in business and academic journals, as well as literary publications. A few of her favorite things include traveling, books, movies, art, the Oxford comma, and gargoyles.