Mourning Roses

William woke to the sound of his mother’s sobbing, two doors down.  He could hear his dad talking to her.

He lay there wishing he could stay in his room; today they would be burying his brother, Ethan.  He wanted to stay right there, in the comfort of his bed; it was his sanctuary. He had enough of his uncles and aunts, even his cousins, telling him it was a miracle he had survived the car crash.  Everyone told him the accident was just an accident; no one caused it. William knew differently; he didn’t want anyone else to know, so he nodded his head yes, each time someone said this.

His mother had been walking around the house, like a dead person, picking up Ethan’s photographs from the piano.  Each time she did this, the sobbing began again. Everyone ran to her bearing tissues and hugs. William found himself resenting his mom for doing this.  She still had a son left. If it was a miracle, he was alive, so shouldn’t she be glad he was there?

His dad gave him the job of bringing drinks to all the people who had suddenly invaded their home.  He was to ask them if they wanted anything from the kitchen; the table was laden with casseroles, cakes, and cookies.  That was odd, he thought. Weren’t cookies for fun occasions like snow days and Christmastime? When you die, people bring over cookies? Thinking about this caused him to let out a strange laugh that frightened him.

“Oh, William,” Aunt Jean called from the living room. “Would you please bring me some of those chocolate chip cookies I brought?”

He stepped back into the living room and with a voice he didn’t recognize as his own asked, “Would anyone else like some cookies?”  The strange laugh made another appearance causing some to look at him and murmur to one another.

He went back into the kitchen, took the plate of cookies and smashed it into the countertop.  The plate shattered; some mourners to come in to investigate.

Aunt Jean bent down to pick up the broken plate and mumbled something about clumsy children.  William tried to help, but she shooed him away as if he were a bothersome insect.

As he lay there, he thought about excuses he could give to avoid the funeral.  He could fake a stomach ache or a sore throat and cough, maybe. Anything to avoid going to the cemetery.  The door opened and his dad stepped in. It was time to go.

At the cemetery, his mother sobbed endlessly.  Even his dad cried. William refused to look at either of them.  

As the pastor spoke, his mind drifted back to that evening.  

The car had been Ethan’s gift for his seventeenth birthday.  William couldn’t wait for his turn; he had four years to go. It wasn’t new, but his brother was crazy about it.  He’d keep it clean, wouldn’t allow William to eat or drink in it, and he waxed it every weekend. Ethan was proud of his new vehicle and used any excuse to drive it.  That night like any other, he was happy to take his little brother to a friend’s house.

“Be careful, son,” his dad said as they were leaving.

Once they were on the road, William bounced up and down in his seat, happy to get out of the house.  He looked at Ethan from the corner of his eye and noticed he was frowning.

“Son be careful,” William said, mocking his dad.  “I don’t want to see my insurance rates go up!!”

“Billy, grow up.” His brother chided.  “He was just showing us he cares.”

William was annoyed Ethan had called him Billy.  It was a name he felt he was too old for and he had told Ethan not to call him that.  So, he punched Ethan in the arm and cursed at him.

“Cut it out, Will!” shouted Ethan. “I’ll hit back and make you cry, you idiot!”

Now angry, William slapped at him. Ethan took a hand off the wheel and clouted William on the chest.  Next, William smacked at Ethan’s face, blinding him to the red stop light. The car went through the intersection; neither of them saw the truck barreling down at them.  It hit the driver’s side, crushing Ethan. William had a couple of scratches. The EMTs were the first to tell him how lucky he was. He wanted to know about his brother; they told him Ethan was fine.  Ethan wasn’t fine. The impact had killed him instantly.

At the gravesite, each mourner was given a rose which they could keep or throw onto Ethan’s coffin as it was lowered into the ground.  As William took his flower he noticed the richness of its deep red color. He ran his fingers over its petals liking their velvety smoothness.  It was a beautiful rose and he thought about keeping it. Then he sniffed the flower and noticed there was no scent to it; this bothered him. He asked his father why the rose had no scent, but his dad told him to keep quiet, he might further upset his mother.

He turned the rose over in his hands, unaware of the tears leaking from his eyes.

“This rose is nothing but a fake,” he whispered to himself.  Listening to the pastor, he clutched the flower in his hand so hard his nails caused his palm to bleed.

Suddenly sobs welled up from his chest;  he backed away from everyone and stumbled.  His dad reached out to steady him, but William slowly dropped to the ground.  He wept beside his big brother’s coffin. The petals of the now forgotten rose escaped his hand and fell into the freshly dug grave.  

New Orleans

Kelly liked her life calm and unobstructed.  She woke, showered, went to work where she sat for seven hours each day and fielded customer service calls.  Her wardrobe was drab and unassuming.

She felt stuck.  It was how she had been brought up.  Her father did not like his daughter to be outgoing; it wasn’t proper.

 Amber wasn’t one to wait around, so she slowly let her foot off the brake.  As soon as the light turned green,She had her foot on the gas pedal and was off to see Kelly.

“Have I got news for you!” Amber purred, kissing her friend on the cheek.  “I’m so excited!  Guess where you and I are going?”

“Going?”  asked Kelly.  “I didn’t think we had plans to go anywhere.”

“My company is sending me to our office in New Orleans during Mardi Gras!   I’m allowed to take a guest since it’s Mardi Gras and you’re it!  Oh, how I love my job.”

At the sound of Mardi Gras, something clicked inside Kelly’s mind.  She felt like someone was pulling at her brain, trying to get through to tell her something; it was so strange!

“Okay!” she replied. “Let’s go!”

Two evenings later, they walked around the streets of the French Quarter and drank large drinks.  Kelly felt out of place, dressed in her blue jeans and a grey tee-shirt.  Everything around her was so colorful!

They came to a small side street and Kelly felt a strong premonition; something was going to happen!  It was as if someone were in her head, pulling her towards the little street.  She felt helpless to resist, so she started walking towards that pull.

“Kelly!” Amber shouted.  “Where are you going?” 

“I need to go this way.” she replied. “There’s a voice inside my head; a man’s voice.  He’s calling me!”

Kelly felt as if she were floating down the middle of the street.  It was as if the crowd was parting for her.  She let the pull of the stranger in her head take her away; always hearing his voice inside her.

Amber ran to catch up, but could not get her friend’s attention, so she followed, her concern for her friend, obvious.

There he is!  Kelly knew him immediately.  She felt as though this was where her whole life had been going; everything she had ever done was to bring her here.  She stood in front of him and shyly looked at the old man sitting on the stoop of a rundown house.  He was surrounded by a small crowd of people, some of them playing small hand drums, all of them smiling and greeting her.

He was the Voodoo Man!  That was his name! Kelly had always known him!  He was there, in her mind, admonishing her each time she said no to a red blouse, whenever she said no to a party, and finally, anytime she felt proud of herself.  He had turned away, powerless to help her at those times. 

The Voodoo Man saw Kelly and stood up.  She went to him, still shy and told him her name.  He took her hand, kissed it and told her he had known about her for many years.  Suddenly Kelly’s mind was flooded with a language; a speech as old as time itself. 

This was a secret tongue only the two of them in the whole crowd could speak.  In this language, the Voodoo Man told her of a life she had lived long ago.  She was filled with images of herself in the middle of a crowd, dancing barefoot on the hot bare ground; other dancers surrounding her, cheering her on. At that moment, she felt the happiest she ever had in her entire life!

Finally, the images ended and the conversation concluded.

“Go now.”  He said to her.  “Step out of the life you have burdened yourself with.  Take with you this magic!  Take laughter and joy!  Take with you the tears you have been denying yourself all these years; let them flow.  Take with you, life!”

In the middle of the night, Amber woke to see Kelly at the window staring down at the street with a strange smile on her face.  Amber was still confused about what she saw that previous afternoon.

Come morning, Kelly was pushing Amber’s shoulder crying, “Wake up sleepyhead!  We have so much to do today!”

Amber opened her eyes and was completely surprised.  Kelly was glowing; she was wearing one of Amber’s colorful dresses, had on lipstick and blush, and her hair was styled.  She looked beautiful!  This was nothing like the usual drab Kelly.

“Hurry and get ready.”  Kelly said.  “I’ll meet you at the cute little café we saw on our way to the hotel.  Then I want to go to all the pretty boutiques; my wardrobe needs color!”  She leaned down and gave her friend a kiss on the cheek.

Amber laughed.  “Kelly, you’re a new person, and I love this new person!”

Kelly also laughed.  “I feel like I haven’t been living until now.  I’ve been hiding behind a mask.   Somehow, I got stuck living the life my father made for me, but this is who I really am.  I need to live this life with as much joy as I’ve lived other lives before this one.  This is not my first life, I don’t know if it’s my last, but I’m going to make it my best!”