The black sedan pulls to a stop in front of the mortuary. John sits in the back seat prolonging what he knows will be a long walk in this cold and dreary weather. As he sits gazing out of the foggy window his eyes follow row after row of graves that stretch on for miles. His gaze is drawn to the fake flowers that decorate the front of almost every grave, they are overly bright even on this dark day. He grunts irritably and thinks to himself, doesn’t anyone have enough time to bring real flowers, even once a week? John knows that these flowers are more than likely provided by the mortuary and this reminds him that there will be no one to bring real flowers for him one day- no children or grandchildren- so he will probably have these fake bright flowers decorating his grave as well. Maybe he can request for his to be left bare, anything would be better than the fake sentiment.
Taking a deep breath John shoves open the door, snaps open his umbrella and pushes up and out of the car. As he stands up he notices every creak, ache, and stiff joint in his body. When did pain become an accepted part of daily life? John stands straight and tall still over six feet even at eighty. John had served five years in the military during the Korean war and still carries himself like a military man. He is lean and handsome for his age with blue eyes that are still piercing and a full head of white hair that had been very black in his younger years. Suddenly, an image of Rose running her fingers through his hair and whispering something about raven’s wings comes to mind, immediately followed by that familiar wave of longing and of loss.
Rose has been gone for ten years now, but the pain is still as fresh as if she had died yesterday. John hadn’t been a saint by far before Rose, but he had never loved anyone else since that day in 1956 when, just out of the military, he had been at his best friend Jimmy’s house for a family barbeque. He hadn’t expected to see Rose, she hadn’t even crossed his mind, the last time he’d seen her she had been a scrawny freckled thirteen year old hanging onto her mother’s arm at the station as the train pulled away carrying John and Jimmy off to war.
Then, there she was, walking in with a group of friends, long legs accentuated by tight black slacks that hugged her tiny waist. She wore a pink cardigan purposely tight in the exact right place, curving around her breasts without revealing them, and a white silk scarf tied at her throat. Her bright red hair fell in waves around her face and down her back, but most striking was her bright smile and the way that the atmosphere of the entire place changed the moment her laughter filled the back yard. Jimmy, with just a hint of humor in his eyes, had slapped John on the back and said, “You remember my little sis Rose don’t you?” At that moment Rose caught sight of John and ran up to him flinging her arms around his neck. Obviously, she didn’t know the effect she had on men, or maybe she did, but John remembered, even now, the feel of her against him that first time. “Johny! It’s so good to see you in one piece! Look how handsome you are! Now a bunch of us are going up to Rocky’s later for milkshakes, so you are going to come with us! I won’t take no for an answer!”
John didn’t even have time to string together a response before she bounced back over to her friends. Jimmy had noticed what must have been a look of blank shock on John’s face because he said, “I wouldn’t try to sneak away John. You might as well go along with her, she’s used to getting her way.” Jimmy continued to laugh as he walked to the cooler to grab a few more beers.
John was accustomed to attention from women and he never had been uncomfortable in the presence of a beautiful woman. He didn’t mind letting them do most of the talking because he enjoyed observing. Watching her eyes light up and her hands move with what she was saying. John was an introvert so he enjoyed sitting back and watching the world unfold around him, but with Rose it seemed that suddenly he had lost his equilibrium. No woman had ever made him feel quite as off balance. For a moment he had considered fleeing, but he was too intrigued to run.
So a few hours later there they were, in a booth at Rocky’s, alone because the others had become tired of being ignored by them. They had been completely absorbed in each other. John couldn’t remember a single thing she had said during that time, but even now he could remember the smell of her perfume. It was a mixture of vanilla and jasmine and completely intoxicating. He could remember how her green eyes were so full of light and laughter as she described the new experiences of life on her own at college. She had been so fresh, so ready to face life head on, and this was exactly what John needed after his years at war. He remembers sharing some of his war stories with her that night. Some were funny some sad. John had watched a lot of friends die and still wondered why he was alive when so many were not. Rose didn’t try to tell him how to feel she just held his hand and listened. He had known even then that she was going to be his wife.
John is pulled back from his thoughts as he realizes he’s getting close to where his Rose had been laid to rest, who came up with that saying anyway, laid to rest? John didn’t know how anyone could describe a lifeless body being buried under six feet of cold earth as restful. As he moved along he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that same woman was walking with him again. He didn’t even bother to look directly at her or even acknowledge that she was there. She always seemed to show up at the most inconvenient times. Was she one of the nurses that occasionally came out to check his blood pressure? Well, he didn’t need any help and she always seemed to be trying to urgently get his attention. He didn’t want to talk to her he wanted to focus on the task at hand and get lost in his memories of Rose. This was his day once a week to honor her, damn it! Why couldn’t he just be alone. Finally, he walked up to Rose’s stone. He paused for a moment and then slowly bent down to replace the withered flowers with the fresh roses that he had brought. They had been her favorite, yellow with just a blush of pink on the tips of the petals. The smell of them brought on another memory.
It was the day of freshman finals and John had agreed to pick her up after she was done. He had been standing by the fountain with a huge bouquet of roses. When she saw him she ran up to him flung her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. The flowers fell to the ground as their lips met and his mind and body became consumed with her. “Thank goodness all those tests are over! What are we going to do now?” she asked as she hopped down and swept up her flowers. “Well I thought we could go hiking and have a picnic if you want?” he had replied. “That sounds marvelous!” She said looping her arm in his as they headed to the car.
They had gone hiking and then decided that a pretty little meadow they’d discovered was the perfect place for them to eat. After eating they were laying on the blanket, Rose looking up at the clouds, John had been watching her face and twirling her silky hair around his fingers. “Rose, I have something to ask you.” She sat up, a little crease forming at her brow. “Rose, I want to go through life with you at my side. I not only want to see your smile everyday, I want to be the one who puts it there. I don’t think anything would be worth experiencing unless we experience it together. So I’m asking you to share your life with me. Be my wife.”
“Oh, John!” She jumped at him and they fell back onto the blanket. Her lips locked on his and her body was pressed against his. Her hands were in his hair and he couldn’t bring himself to push her back. They had waited for what seemed an eternity and it seemed they couldn’t wait any longer. That is the day they had made love for the first time. Later, as they were laying together, listening to the woods around them, Rose sprang up, “I didn’t give you an answer!” and she leaned over him, her hair a red halo around her head, kissed his lips and whispered, “Yes, John I want to share everyday with you.”
He sat up and fished the ring out of his pants, rolled back on his side and slipped it onto her finger. Then he rolled the blanket around them and they began to make love again.
Six months later they were married and expecting a baby that he was sure they had made that day and he was happy. He had everything he could possibly want. John supported them by working in the family company and they had just begun to make a home for themselves and then the bottom fell out. They’d been awakened in the middle of the night to sheets soaked with blood. They rushed to the hospital where they lost their first and only baby girl that they had named Lily. The doctor informed them that Rose would never be able to carry a pregnancy. This news had been crushing, but John was just glad to have Rose, safe and alive. He drove her home the next morning and they had laid in bed just holding each other. They spent months crying together, making love, and healing. Rose was still the bright woman full of life that John had fallen in love with, but there was a sadness there sometimes too that hadn’t been there before. There had always been an innocence about Rose, a certain fragility, that made John feel the need to protect her. He couldn’t protect her from the loss of their daughter. He felt powerless at times, but she would reassure him that all she needed was to feel him beside her, to be in his arms. Eventually, the pain did ease and life fell into a new normal.
Things were not always easy, they suffered lost jobs and tight months of grilled cheese sandwiches and wine, but that was alright with John. Sometimes he even enjoyed watching her temper flare up as fiery as her red hair because he knew it could just as easily turn into passion of an entirely different and more enjoyable kind.
John stands in the cold rain in front of Rose’s grave for a long time remembering their life together. As he hikes up his jacket around his neck a bright flash at his side startles him. It came from the woman standing beside him. This time he gives her his full attention and goes numb with shock. It’s Rose! Rose standing before him, but not the rose he put into the ground this is the Rose of his youth. Long red hair, curling at her elbow, bright green eyes sparkling as she looks up at him and the same impish smile on her lips.
“Oh John I’ve been waiting for you to see me.” She whispers as her hand reaches up to stroke his cheek. “But how is this possible Rose? Look at you!” She takes his hand and pulls him over to the stone next to hers. As he looks at it he realizes that his name is written on this stone, but how can that be? He looks back at Rose, his face full of confusion. “Darling, don’t be afraid, but you have been wandering for a long time. You’ve been confused and so angry. It’s time to remember now.”
Suddenly, John does remember. It must have been that night he had felt so tired. He’d laid down in their bed alone and lonely and just been so tired. When he had awoken the next day it had seemed so gray and dull. It had almost felt like he’d been living in a fog ever since, and at this realization John begins to notice a change taking place in his body. He looks down and watches in astonishment as the spots and wrinkles in his skin begin to fade and disappear. He feels as if it is easier to stand up straight, almost as if he’s lighter. All the aches and stiffness seem to melt away. Slowly, he turns back to Rose their eyes meet and the sun breaks through the clouds. As the light falls down around them John notices a little girl standing behind Rose. When she sees that he notices her she steps forward, her hair is the same bright red as her mother’s but her eyes are blue like John’s. “This is our daughter John.” Rose says as her hand caresses the little head. John steps forward and kneels before the little girl that their love had created, his eyes are stinging and his throat feels tight, “You look just like your mommy.”
“Hi daddy! I’ve missed you, but now we can be together always!” Her little arms encircle his neck and she rubs her cheek against his.
Tears are streaming down his face as John scoops Lily into his arms. She kisses the wet parts of his face and lays her head on his shoulder and whispers in his ear “It’s going to be OK now.” John stands with Lily on his hip and gathers Rose to his other side and when he turns he notices that they are in a field that looks exactly like the one where he and Rose first made love. His arm tightens around Rose and he rubs his cheek against Lily’s silky head as they walk forward together into the light.