The rain pounded on the roof while the sickening smell of the flowers in his nostrils added to the lump in his throat. Knowing what he was about to do gnawed at him as a tearful haze clouded his eyes. All so vivid, it could have been yesterday.
The weight of the hammer in his hand, smooth handle with a heavy head would do it. He brought it down smartly to drive the merciless nails into the wooden lid of the coffin. In his mind, he knew she was being tossed with each strike and his muscles rebelled, but he persisted. The hammer slipped in his calloused hand, almost falling to the floor. He renewed his resolve. His grip now whitened his knuckles; he was the father, and it was his duty to ensure her safe journey to the grave.
A flush of heat sends beads of sweat across his furrowed brow creating a crown-like glow. The bedcovers intensify his internal heat, and he begins to push them off. It was then that he noticed her in this room decorated with fading roses wallpaper, old bits of furniture, worn shoes thrown under a bureau and a seaman’s cap on the bed post.
“Mary, Mary dear, what are you doing here?” A wizened man in his rumpled sheets is looking at his small daughter standing at the foot of his bed. In her pale hand, she is holding something, but in the flashes of light and darkness from the streetlight, it’s unclear.
The streetlight flickers outside creating patterns of light and shadow in the room. He doesn’t want to complain to the electric company about the loose corrugated metal plate protecting the fragile bulb. He doesn’t want to make trouble. In this stage of life, he knows making trouble can be a problem. When he was younger, he’d speak up, shout and even threaten to get his way, but not now. The fight had gone out of him after the accident. Who listens to a man with one leg?
He is tired as anyone can be after losing a child, and here it is decades later, the anniversary. The thought of the ground that day, so cold and wet, sends shivers down his spine. All of them looked away when he approached the ugly hole. What were they thinking? He knew. Her death was caused by him.
The shoes he wore that day with the flaking mud on them he keeps in his mind, where they have settled into a kind of permanence, like a scar. The shoes, the shoes! They said he’d brought mud into the house. Fever followed as quickly as a hot storm that swallowed her and she was gone.
Through his brain fog he remembers the white roses and the glistening drops of rain like tiny diamonds. The roses lay on the casket as it was lowered into the black hole.
The man’s granddaughter in the next room is on the phone. Her feelings of loyalty to family causes the hesitancy even as she saw his rapid decline in the last few weeks. If only she had someone to help, she’d get the advice that would make it all right and ease the guilt. But there is no one.
Slowly, her finger pokes out the phone number. Each digit pressed makes it worse. She wants to cry, but she mustn’t alert him to what she’s thinking. Finally, the phone is answered and her voice falters, “Doctor, I think he’s getting worse. Yes, we may have to consider putting him someplace safer than our home.”
“What’s happened that made you change your mind?”
Again, she hesitates, but she knows he’s the only help she has.
“We both know how he’s acting lately since my husband died from that fever. I even hid his straight razor. I never knew he could be so gruff, so unhappy and so tearful. He’s never been a man who cries. Now, if he can’t find his slippers, he cries. Imagine that? Today, he claims he saw his little dead daughter, my father’s youngest sister, who died many years ago, standing at the foot of his bed. He even described the dress she was wearing, which was her First Holy Communion dress. It was the one for her funeral. I saw it because someone took a photo of her in the casket.”
The answer comes back in an assuring tone, “Well, if he’s beginning to see things, yes, that may mean more brain damage from that tile floor. I know he’s been unsteady on his leg. We’ll begin the process of placement. I do have somewhere in mind. I’ll ask to have a bed reserved for him. Do you think he’ll agree?”
The decision causes her head to throb, “I don’t know. He’s always been so independent and now I’m beginning to worry. We’re alone in the house most of the time and when he’s not crying, he’s so angry.”
The woman puts down the phone, dejected, and begins walking, softly toward the bedroom. The old man, bent over, has returned to his bed’s sheets. Lying motionless under the heavy blankets that push against the thick, white stubble on his chin, his mouth is drooping on one side. The gray eyes are fixed, staring at the foot of the bed.
The woman looks down and there, lying on the bed, is a rain-bejeweled fresh white rose.
P. A. Farrell is a psychologist living on the East Coast of the United States where she writes for several Medium.com publications and has published self-help books. And BTW, she is the granddaughter of a horse thief and just might be a descendant of Queen Maeve, the Pirate Queen of Ireland according to her genealogy record.