Standing in the snow in front of my husband’s grave, I came to an unexpected realization. What used to be a romantic tribute had become something disconcerting.
As I kneeled down to lay a pink rose at the base of Justin’s headstone, I noticed a bouquet of yellow daffodils in the spot where I planned to place my flower. Daffodils? From whom? I tried to wrap my mind around why they were there, to solve a mystery I hadn’t anticipated.
Then a strong gust of Chicago wind slapped across my face. And with it came a new level of comprehension. Today was Valentine’s Day. These flowers were fresh.
Confused, I began to look around. I scanned the cemetery for others and saw a lone groundskeeper cleaning near the entrance. I dropped my rose and began running in his direction.
Arriving short of breath, I asked, “Have you been here long? Have you seen anyone else here recently?”
“No,” he said, eyeing me with caution. “I just come from break.”
Out of frustration I grasped for anything. “Okay, well is there a log of some kind? Of the people who come and go each day?”
My visitations had never been recorded. I knew this.
The man could see its importance to me, so he gave it some thought before responding.
“No,” he said. “No records.”
Disappointed, I stood there, staring at him. He gazed back at me, with a polite smile on his face. Then, after an awkwardly long pause, the groundskeeper’s look changed from pleasant to irritated. He mumbled something about being busy and walked away.
My mind began racing and I felt the pulse of a headache starting in the back of my skull. When I left work earlier, I’d been happy to find it wasn’t cold and gray. Driving into the cemetery, I had been captured by the particularly brilliant sunset; the sky blazed with pink and purple streaks.
Now, as I stood alone, the sky was dark.
Suddenly, I couldn’t leave fast enough. I began running toward my car, somehow managing to not trip or fall, then hopped in and slammed the door shut. A little flustered, I dropped my keys as I went to start the engine. I felt around and finally discovered them jammed between the front seat and center console. I pulled them free, started the car, then peeled out of the parking spot like a teenage drag racer.
As I turned left onto the main road to head home, I considered the possibilities. Maybe Justin’s parents were in town and had gone to the cemetery. They popped in from time to time, not always stopping by to say hello. The rare trip to see their grandson was the only reason they ever seemed to bother with me.
I knew it wasn’t my mom. After the funeral she never went back, although she was respectful of my visits, which were many over the last two years. Since the funeral, my routine—coming on holidays and his birthday—had always been the same. Only the seasons changed. But today my world tipped slightly off its axis, and I couldn’t help but recall what my older co-worker Barb had once told me, that the only constant in life is change.
Something in the pit of my stomach didn’t like it.
As I got closer to home, I tried to forget the flowers. I wanted to seem normal to my son, Tyler, and my mom. He’s only seven, and believed I was out visiting a friend. Mom, on the other hand, is quite perceptive. Nothing gets past her. Stressed out and feeling a migraine coming on, I turned right onto the street where I live.
“Hey honey, I’ve got your plate in the microwave,” Mom called out, after she heard me come in.
I set my keys and purse on the sofa, took off my coat and hung it up. Then I walked into the kitchen.
“Amy,” Mom said, “You look terrible. Are you okay? You have sweat beads on your forehead.”
I wiped my face with the back of my hand. “Oh,” I replied, “I’m fine, just a little cold.”
She gave me a funny look and put my food on the table. I sat down to eat right away, hoping she wouldn’t ask more questions. Then Tyler ran in.
“Mom. Grandma and I went to the library. I got a DVD on bugs of the desert southwest. You wanna watch it with me?”
“Sure honey.” I somehow managed to eat dinner and hold a coherent conversation, but the whole time I felt like I was sinking in quicksand. Luckily, no one seemed to notice. Afterward, Mom returned to her novel, and Tyler and I watched the bug program; at least it appeared like I did. Mostly I just stared at the TV while thinking about the daffodils.
“Scorpions are so cool. Don’t you think?” Tyler asked, interrupting my thoughts.
I despised bugs, but I didn’t want to disappoint my son. “Yeah, I guess they’re pretty neat,” I agreed. “You know, it’s almost time for bed soon. I’m going to take a bath, and then I’ll come and tuck you in.”
Tyler frowned but didn’t put up a fight. He was well-behaved that way. He put the disc back in its case while I left to go to the bathroom. Once inside, I dimmed the lights and locked the door. I turned the tub faucet on to as hot as I could stand it, added some aromatherapy salts, undressed and climbed in. As the water level grew, I sunk deeper into its protective womb. I closed my eyes and let the warmth slowly relax me. As so often happened when I relaxed, an old memory surfaced—one I try not to remember—of the day my dad moved away, leaving my mom and me for another woman. I was just a kid.
Tears began flowing down my cheeks and into the water. It was a silent sobbing so as not to disturb anyone else. Then my mind began to race again. Daffodils! Soon my head throbbed with unbearable pain. I couldn’t allow myself to think about any of it a moment longer, so I released the drain, grabbed a towel and climbed out.
I must have lost track of time, because when I went to tuck Tyler in, he was already in bed, asleep. I leaned over and kissed him on top of his head, then gently closed his door. When I got to my room, I noticed a bottle of Excedrin lying on the dresser, so I took two, without water, and collapsed into bed.
While lying in the dark, I decided to think of something happy. A good memory. A previous Valentine’s Day. Justin always took me to Francesca’s, our favorite Italian restaurant. I could almost see us sitting at a candlelit table, drinking wine and eating pasta.
Justin raised his glass, “Someday I’m going to take my kitten to Paris.”
I flushed. Even after years together, he still had that effect on me.
“We’ll eat at the Eiffel Tower restaurant for your birthday. Then we’ll go on one of those Seine river cruises. What do you think?”
“Say the word and I’m packed,” I said.
We spent the night talking, sharing tiramisu. Justin glowed with health and his blue eyes sparkled as he described plans to expand his carpentry business. Soon we’d be financially set. We’d be able to afford to travel the world together, like we always talked about. I don’t think I’d ever seen him more excited about anything as he was about this.
People shouldn’t die of cancer at thirty.
Every good memory eventually ended up there… in reality. There was no escaping it, no matter how hard I tried. And now there was the mystery of the daffodils. I didn’t know what to think, but I desperately needed rest if I wanted to make it to work in the morning, so I shut my eyes and willed my mind to stop racing.
I dreamt of Justin. We floated peacefully together on a lake in a rowboat. The sky was clear and the sun shone bright. He said something funny that made me laugh, causing me to lean over and clutch my belly. When I regained composure and tossed my head back up, still smiling, clouds had filled the sky. They had an ominous look about them, angry. Lightning sparked followed by loud claps of thunder. I looked at Justin, wondering what we should do, but his expression was blank. Then the waves grew choppy. All at once, swells the size of skyscrapers surrounded us. One moment we were in their trough, the next we ascended their foamy crest. Terrified, I looked over at Justin, seeking some kind of help. He remained blank-faced and unresponsive. Then, as we began descending back into the dark cavern of the wave, the boat tipped over, and I woke up, choking.
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG