Flash nonfiction by Xujun Eberlein
In the cremation chamber, a solid wall blocked us from the furnace. This was new, I heard, as it used to be that the furnace was in plain view. Perhaps the sheer horror of watching a loved one turning into ashes had led to the change. On the wall, a small, low window opened to the idle conveyor belt, on which my mother’s coffin waited. Three cremation workers stood by the coffin. One of them, a woman, said that it was a “custom” to set off a chosen number of firecrackers to send the deceased “along the road.” This again was new, lighting firecrackers inside a room. Tradition is an ever-changing concept, especially in clamorous China.