Northwords Now Issue 36

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Disposal of the Body as Individual Act

by Lydia Harris

…what we find on archaeological sites- …must be only
the most durable parts… This makes it all the more wonderful to find traces
of ‘individual acts’. Hazel Moore (Ease Archaeology, Westray, 2018)

March 27th 2005

You lower the vessel into a supermarket bag. The vessel is plastic but made to look coppery, to suggest an urn, ceremonial. You fill a thermos with coffee, pour an inch of Single Elmlea into a bottle, park the car at Newbiggin, set out on foot towards the sea, a ditch full of gorse to your left, a dyke to your right, no beasts in the field. You feel a little awkward when you reach the cliff top, that grassy stretch between the dyke and the edge. Fulmars roost on the ledges. You loosen the vessel’s lid and fling the pink-grey ash high over the turf as if it was seed and you and the small Sunday wind were a dance, your bodies fluid, boneless. The ash drifts, vanishes into the brome, barley and fescue. No trace left by the time you sit and pour coffee into a mug, add a dash of Elmlea. He would like this part. This little picnic. The sun doesn’t blink. You don’t cry. That afternoon you walk to Noltland where Hazel has uncovered a bone comb, beads and the post holes of a pallisade, close to where women tended corpses. Individual acts. Sheep horns, scallop shells and flint flakes placed on ochre.