Posting this for the blog hop, but it will not be here forever, and the title will likely change! Also, I realize it is a little longer than it should be, but I hope you will enjoy it!
The Last Friday
Refusing to look at the body she’d just brought back from the hospital to prepare for burial, Hazel opened a window in her bedroom—an Irish tradition. She took a clear bowl to the kitchen, as she and Peter had planned shortly after inheriting his parents’ funeral home. Death had seemed so present then, yet so far away. And now, it was here. Her assistant had offered help, but she knew she had to do this alone. And she wasn’t about to give his body up to another funeral home where they would stuff his body full of unnatural chemicals. He deserves better.
Once in the kitchen, she filled the bowl with water, then considered the three roses on the counter. She picked up the red rose, signifying passion, and rubbed it against her cheek, pausing to feel the silk of its petals. But she couldn’t delay the work any longer. Peter was waiting. Pretty soon, rigor mortis would make it much more difficult to do what she needed to do. His eyes and face were already stiff.
She began removing the petals and dropping them into the water, thinking of all the passion she had shared with him. Why, just a week ago, they’d been at it all night, trying out new games . . . but, no, she couldn’t think about that now. She wasn’t seeing the flowers. She tried to blink the tears out of her eyes, but everything was still blurry. No matter, she could feel the rose and its petals. So in they went.
Then, she picked up the pink rose, the rose of love and friendship. It trembled in her weak grasp. That’s how they had begun, as friends. Peter had first noticed her in the music room at their high school where Hazel had been picking out Chopin’s Polonaise heroic on the piano. It was a tune his mother hummed. He noticed her, she noticed him, and that was that. They played the Chopin piece at their wedding.
The white rose was last, the white of purity, of pure love, tradition, and marriage. She would have to face his death soon enough. She breathed in its fragrance, hoping to still pretend this wasn’t her, that wasn’t him, this preparation wasn’t necessary. But the white rose reminded her this was real—it wasn’t a dream. One by one, she dropped the petals in the water.
She recalled how purely Peter he had been. The way he would joke about fixing the fence so they could get a dog. The way he struggled to learn how e-mail and the internet worked. The way he brought her a rose every Friday.
Last week, it was a white rose like this. Was that really last week? She looked at the calendar. Yes, it was Friday again. And now I am bringing him roses.
She took the water back to the bedroom and finally looked at the bed. There he was. Stretched out on a white linen sheet on top of the bed they had shared. Dressed in a white button-down shirt, a tweed jacket, and a pair of casual black pants. He used to say the combination of formality, tradition, and informality gave their clients a sense of familiarity and trust, mixed with respect.
She went to him then, and removed the jacket, then the shirt and undershirt, and finally the pants. It was awkward, like undressing a ragdoll filled with sand. Her throat knotted up. She was having trouble seeing again. Her eyes were warm, her breathing short. She stopped.
She stood back and looked at him then. Her love for him, her memory of his love for her surrounded her in tingles. Then she saw the body as it really was, a dead lifeless thing, his soul gone. The tears would not stop. She fled the room.
Hazel returned to the room, puffy-eyed some time later. She had to do this; he deserved it. She lit a white candle, then the frankincense and myrrh. After rolling a towel, she placed it under his chin to keep his mouth closed. Next, she took a blue cloth, dipped it in the rose-petal water, and began to wash his body. She started with his chest. She knew she should start with his head, but she couldn’t look at his face yet. She took a deep breath and started with his chest and shoulders. Those arms that had picked her up and carried her across the threshold of their hotel room the night of their wedding. The chest she’d leaned her head against when tired or worried. The scar on his waist he’d gotten after falling from a tree, trying to save a cat. The legs that brought wood to their fire pit in their back yard. His ticklish feet. . . Why isn’t he laughing?
She felt dizzy, but she couldn’t stop. There was still his face. She reached up to close his eyes, those brown eyes that would twinkle in humor or soften in compassion, then trailed the cloth across his face, around the lips that had kissed her with such sweetness. The mouth that had comforted so many in their time of loss. Which she would do from now on. As she continued to cleanse him, her head began to swim, and a darkness crept into the edges of her vision. She looked at his face, so still, so rigid. He was gone. If only she could go with him . . .
Her vision blurred, and it wasn’t because of tears this time. She swayed on her feet, the world spinning before her eyes, spinning so fast and yet so slow she couldn’t make sense of anything. She heard snippets of laughter, hers and Peter’s, and then she smelled greenery, woodland scents cutting through the pungent aroma of incense. She saw the forest, Jordan Park . . . I know this day . . .
With that thought, she was there, on that day, that perfect day, before they’d gotten married, the whole world before them, everything so full of passion, so full of life. One of those days you know can’t last or happen again because it is just too perfect. Peter was just ahead of her, looking at a stream bordered by horsetails and three roses: red, pink, and white. A cat jumped between her and Peter. Was that her cat, Belladonna? But she would never have brought her cat here, and she didn’t even have Belladonna back then.
This isn’t real.
She turned to Peter, running towards him. This wasn’t the real world, but he was alive here. She didn’t know how much time she had. As she reached him, he began to fade, then so did the rest of the forest, the bright sun dazzling through the leaves the last to dissipate into grey, and finally black.
Hazel opened her eyes. She was in the bedroom, her hand clutching something hard. The haze of incense smoke hovered in the air, but the resins had burned out long ago. Beneath her, on the wood floor, was a sheet of paper. Where had it come from? It showed a picture of Peter in a forest with horsetails. Hazel remembered that perfect day. But there he was. She didn’t even know she could draw or color, but the colored pencils lay beside her on the ground, and the green one was in her hand. No one else could have drawn it. His hand in the picture was raised, as if waving. And then, it moved. He was waving. She looked up to his body, still stiff on the bed—was she going crazy—but on the paper, his eyes twinkled as he waved at her.
Then, in her head, she heard the deep baritone of his voice. Be comforted, my love. I’m home.
Now continue by reading the next story in the Blog Hop!
Lost And Found, by Angela Wooldridge
Bia Trevi’s Worldly Eats, by Barbara Lund
Hunting Bob, by Vanessa Wells
Don’t Drink The Water, by Juneta Key
Duty, by Elizabeth McCleary
The Footnote, by Karen Lynn
Chris Bridges’ blog, Say Hi to C. T. Bridges
The Monster Under The Bed, by Nic Steven
Field Trip to the UFO Museum, by Bill Bush
Scary Monsters and Other Friends, by Lisa Stapp
Morning Has Broken, by Katharina Gerlach
Good Honest Work, by Chris Wight
Bad For Business, by Gina Fabio