Consolation of the Rose
He loved her dearly.
Just two kids from Long Island -- two lovers with a destiny. For thirty-five years they grew together. Built a marriage, a family, their dreams. She chose him first, of course, as the one with the sense of will and purpose -- the engine that would push them along to a nice house in a nice suburb with a dog and two children. A well-manicured lawn braced by patches of old forest. Neither one could understand the innate suburban drive to pave over all things wild with the green of a grassy lawn. A shed and a bird-feeder in the back. A little man-made pond, and voila: their patch of happiness completed.
It wouldn’t always be easy, of course. A son with a free spirit and a taste for trouble. A daughter disproportionately naive for her intellect. Getting laid off in his forties resulted in a real mid-life crisis. They argued, they fought. But they persevered. And they came through -- until the sickness happened. The first sickness.
They were told she might not walk again. They were told she might die. The disease was rare -- of course -- rare in a way that it could only be given to them and survived by them. They were told she might die. She didn’t. She retired but she didn’t die. She made a new business -- a business she could manage through the residual pain of survival. Reflexology, wellness, consultation. She put her time in the local breast cancer support groups. What was left of herself she gave to others.
And then she got sick a second time. Fourth stage, non-primary origin cancer. He really didn’t get what it all meant. Again, she’s sick again? It was another bump in the road to happiness. A bump the size of Everest, but she had the will to take it on. She took it on for her family and friends. She took it on for herself. She wanted to see her kids get married. She wanted to meet her grandkids.
She saw her kids get married. She met her grandkids. It took everything she had. He sat next to her and they looked at each other in silence. Understanding passed between them, the sort of understanding that only a bonded pair could feel. She lay down and he knew she wouldn’t get up again. She spent the next week making her peace, saying her goodbyes with her family and friends, and then passing quietly from our world.
The wake and funeral came and went. Numbness mixed with pangs of intense, unbearable pain. Everything too soon and too fast. Too many plans left unfinished, so many places left unvisited. So much life left unlived.
He now stood next to the fresh dirt of her grave. The flowers still looked flush with virility, bright yellows like the sun. He stood alone. But he wasn’t alone.
A terrifying phantom stood across from him. Black, shapeless, tall and menacing. His heart seized in terror to think this creature of the shadows lurked near her grave. From the inside of the shadows came a red rose.
The shadow creature told him that the rose was magic. All he had to do was dig up his beloved and waved the rose beneath her nose three times. Then he’d have her back. She’d wake with a gasp as if from sleeping, normal and healthy as ever.
Needing to hear no more he turned deaf, broke into the cemetery’s storage shed and grabbed a shovel. He attacked the loose dirt with the ferocity of vengeance. He would have her back. The end was no longer the end. Dirt filled his nose and choked his lungs, he worked so fast. His arms and back burned with strains that reminded him of his urgency. All that she had been to him he put into getting her back. Her power of will and her strength became his. He felt awake with purpose.
He looked up from the hole in which he now stood. “But I’m so close.”
She stood above him cloaked in a translucent glow. “You can’t.”
“Why not? We could have you back.”
“You might, but then another would get sick. There’s only so much room for life and death in our world. One must be traded for the other.”
“But why should we accept this? How can I? If I have the chance to bring you back -- why wouldn’t I?”
“Because the strongest backs bear the heaviest burdens, my love. My burden is finished. You have to endure yours.”
He stuck his shovel into the dirt and was met with the hollow thud of the casket. “But you’re right here!”
“I’m much closer to you than that. I’m in and around your heart, keeping your soul warm when it feels coldest.”
Tears tumbled down his cheeks. “It’s too hard.”
“Let go of the grudge, the anger. Make amends with the shadow. Kiss my grandchildren for me. Hug our son and daughter. Set up the camper and breathe the salt air of the ocean. Live, my love, for both of us.”He threw down the shovel, climbed from the hole, and sat at its edge. He wanted to take her in his arms, but he knew she wouldn’t be there. So he looked at her and she met his gaze. They shared the same understanding as when he laid her down for her final rest. She said no more as she walked from him into the forest. Beyond that forest was the sea. Beyond the sea danced the Northern Lights. Beyond them floated all the planets of the solar system. Beyond that sparkled the galaxy, and further still the edge of the universe laid in wait.