The river is flowing fast; brown, swirling water carrying paper and plastic and sticks and branches. The mud of the banks is dark and silty; it smells dank and ripe.

Walking through the trees you could be miles from the city. Eucalyptus leaves crackle under foot and the smell of the bush fills your head. When you think about it you realise there is the sound of traffic underlying everything, but the surface noise of birds and your own footsteps pulls it out of your mind.

Walking along you wonder about the morning. About Jess. Last time you saw Jess, you fought. You'd come to say sorry. Too late. You wonder...

Through the trees you see a group of people. They are standing around a tree and as you walk towards them, one of them turns. Tears on her face. You hesitate but decide to keep walking; it's almost worse to back away. The path divides and you follow the one below them, near the river. As you get closer you notice a man higher up the hill, beside a tree. He is concentrating, intent on what he is doing. Grey ashes fall from the plastic box in his hands. The wind catches them and some dust falls on his feet, across his trousers. He walks around the tree, purposeful, measured steps. The others watch. No one speaks. When the ash stops falling, he looks up. His control is not total; his face is anxious. A woman walks up the hill to him, mud collecting on her high, black shoes. She puts her hand on his shoulder and they stand for a moment before rejoining the others. You walk on slowly, watching without wanting them to see you.

One by one the people walk up to the tree and softly speak, stand or stare. The pile of ashes lies around the tree, amongst its roots. The man still holds the plastic urn.

You stop and stare openly at them now. They do not notice you. You are not part of their ceremony. You don't matter. You watch for a moment longer and then turn back. You have no place here. But you wonder who it was, and what they did. And you think about death. And appropriate burial.

You begin to walk faster and head back to the house.

Philippa J Burne 1996