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Through the dusty window, grey clouds blanketed the sky. Rain poured down, and wind blew, a tired sigh. Rosemary’s old eyes could see only a vague fog, but she could hear the tears on the roof and crooked tree branches clawing at the swinging shutters.
The electric blanket covering Rosemary’s withered body was her only source of warmth. She was cold, but though the controller to adjust the heat of the blanket lay within her reach, she had not the strength to lift her arm. She could not remember what to do with the metal box anyway.
Somewhere deep in Rosemary’s mind, a flicker of panic flashed like lightning. It was coming. She knew it would soon be upon her. Rosemary was not afraid of death anymore—only the suffering that went with it. She prepared herself for the onslaught.
Then it came—the pain, a wrench in her gut, twisting her stomach with horrible cruelty. Rosemary often thought of the pain as an entity unto itself, something alive and beyond human control. Not even the powerful medicines given to her every day could shield her from its grasp. She took a weak breath and quietly slipped into another place.
A small girl danced in green grass that grew to her knees. Golden sunlight gleamed on her auburn hair and rosy cheeks. Her clear blue eyes shone with innocence, and she left a trail of bliss in her wake. Laughing, she swished her yellow skirt around her legs, and a cloud of white butterflies exploded from their floral perches. A tall, dark-haired man—the girl’s father—snatched one in his strong hands as they flew like snowflakes in a gale. The girl stopped and stared, round eyes filled with horror, as she looked at the fists that had crushed the harmless butterfly. What had it done to deserve such a fate? A silent tear slipped down her cheek. Then she gasped in surprise and wonder when her father slowly opened his hands to the girl and the white angel was alive and well, sitting peacefully in his palm. The butterfly quickly realized its freedom and leapt away, flying far above the deep blue sky, followed by the girl’s eyes until it was out of sight.
There was a loud noise like a boulder shattering on a mountaintop. Lightning flashed. Rosemary’s father was long dead, and her youth buried by sin and suffering. Rosemary saw only darkness through the fog over her vision. Night had fallen while she lay unconscious. The pain had gone for now, leaving only a throbbing memory in its wake.
Thunder cracked again. Rosemary’s mouth was dry. She knew there was a glass of water on the table by her bed because she had heard her son put it there this morning—or was it yesterday? Time had no meaning anymore. She had no strength to move her hand or even call for Joseph’s help anyway. That was his name, wasn’t it? He might have been Nicholas—no, that was her father’s name, or perhaps her grandfather’s.
Rosemary knew her mind was going, if not gone. She had always boasted about keeping her bright red hair and all her teeth even at age ninety-two. A lot of good they were now that she could no longer recall the name of her only son. She listened to the weeping of the sky until the dawn cast its cheerless light on her face through the clouds. That seemed to throw a switch somewhere inside her, and she felt the same prickle of fear she always did before the pain took over.
This time it was in her chest, as if her heart was being crushed in a nutcracker. Her shallow lungs could not fully inhale, and she could not even squeeze out a whimper through the pain. Unable to bear it, she floated far away on a silver river.
A tall, lanky girl stepped shyly out of a red car, her flaming hair beautifully curled, the rest of her an embodiment of awkwardness. Careful not to trip over her long blue dress, she allowed a handsome young man to escort her to her first dance. The glint of excitement in the girl’s eye mirrored the stars sparkling overhead as she clutched her purse nervously. A door was opened for the couple, and yellow light spilled out, accompanied by shreds of music and sparkles of confetti. The D.J. was playing a slow song, and the boy offered his hand to the girl, smiling warmly. The girl smiled back, face flushed, and laid her long fingers in her date’s palm. The couple swayed back and forth, timid and unsure at first but drawing closer together as the song played. As the last notes faded on the air, their lips met. It was not a hungry, passionate kiss but a gentle, friendly one. The girl blushed as the kiss ended, and in her mind the kiss would stay on her lips as long as she lived.
Someone was speaking loudly to Rosemary. She remembered now—her husband died years ago in a car accident. She would never feel his kiss again. She slowly opened her sightless eyes and sensed Joseph standing next to her.
Rosemary could tell that Joseph was worried from the tone of his voice. She couldn’t make out what he was saying, though. The words caught in her ears and tied themselves up in knots in her head. Why couldn’t she think straight? “Doctor is here....” Rosemary was too weak to decipher any more of what her son said. She felt warm hands taking a pulse on her wrist. Joseph sat down heavily after a voice she didn’t recognize spoke. The rain outside was echoed by his wracking sobs. Rosemary’s heart cried out in grief when she heard her son cry so pitifully, and with a great effort she moved her leaden hand and set it in Joseph’s lap to comfort him. He squeezed it gently, but seeing its bony fingers and pale skin and feeling how icy cold her hand was did not ease his pain. If anything, he wept harder.
Rosemary was exhausted. Every part of her ached, and her heart beat sluggishly. Numbness crept subtly from her toes to her knees and from her fingers to her elbows. The strange feeling of nothingness marched steadily onward, until her limbs no longer existed to her. Rosemary closed her blind eyes, and all sound left her ears but a dull roaring, like listening into a seashell at the ocean. Calm flooded through her like honey, and she glided away on a golden dove.
A red-headed woman, graceful and lovely, ran across the white beach under the sun’s warming gaze. A dark-haired man with her ring on his finger and a grinning baby in the crook of his elbow followed at a more dignified pace. The woman splashed into the clear, salty water, heedless of the shoes she still wore or the sunhat in danger of being stolen by the fresh breeze. She frolicked carelessly in the waves, forgetting everything as she witnessed the ocean for the first time. Hours later, she sat on a protruding rock peninsula with her husband and son. The flaming sun slowly sank, red and swollen, over the endless ocean, mesmerizing all three. As the last ruby glimmer disappeared beyond the horizon, leaving only scarlet streaks in the navy blue sky, the first star came out, like a diamond on a field of velvet. The woman hugged her son close, feeling nothing but love and joy.
The star grew larger and brighter until it filled the whole sky. The sound of rain on the windows faded away. A familiar white presence, the one who had been with her all her life, came from the star and took her lovingly by the hand. The pain was gone, and Rosemary knew no more.
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© 2008 Lilli Brachman
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