Lucius wanted to be burnt, not buried. The day after he died I went to the glassblower’s workshop to find an urn for him. Great slabs of glass were propped against the wall: spangled with air bubbles, and so fatly uneven the light seemed to roll through them.
‘Do you make this yourself?’ I asked, touching one.
‘No, it gets delivered to us this way,’ said the assistant, wiping his hands on his leather apron. ‘They make it in another part of the empire, where there’s more of the things they need. We don’t do it here.’
‘So it has already travelled a long way?’
‘Yes. It’s travelled further than most people ever do.’
So had Lucius, I thought, and was pleased.
Sand to glass: the finest metamorphosis. Something ordinary becomes something rare; something cheap becomes something precious. I am pleased that he will rest inside such magic. I watch the glassblowers haul their blowpipes from the furnace, tipped with molten glass as if each man has speared a setting sun. It is gooey and malleable, transformed again. The men mould their vessels, overseen by Bacchus and Mercury and all the other gods who delight in altered states. The same gods who have led Lucius through his own transformation.
Lucius always liked glass. He thought it was beautiful, grand. He told me how, back home, they’d had a big glass bowl that was always full of apricots and oranges and figs, all fragrant. We don’t have anything like that here. Sometimes, to cheer him up, I’d buy tiny plums and berries. They weren’t the plump and fulsome kind he remembered from his boyhood, but there were lovely in their way.
I carry the urn home myself, arms tight around its big belly. Lucius has crossed a sea once, and so has his sea-green urn. It came from ashes and he has gone to them. And so I am not troubled to see him set off on another voyage.