"Pressed"

There were mornings when she woke up and could see nothing but flowers dancing in front of her eyes. They swayed softly together in hues of gray and sun-kissed brown, like an old photograph. Always out of focus, a shifting haze of memories so real she fancied she could smell them. Her former husband sent these dreams-turned-awakenings, when she was still too asleep to cross the boundary into the world of the waking.

So many times during his life he had compared her to the flowers he tended in his lab, studying their structures and composition, using a mortar and pestle to crush their leaves into paste, brewing this and that in the name of discovery. So many times he had soothed her fever with his aromatic hands pressed coolly to her brow and a cup of mint tea with little violet flowers swirling in the milk-churned froth, fresh from his plants. She could still taste the fresh honey suckle on her lips, even if the warmth of the hands that plucked them had long since faded, stiffened and scattered.

That was all that had faded away, however. The blurry memories stayed, the bitter tears, the dull ache in her chest, the bile in her throat...all of that remained. She carried on her life as a ghost carries on its haunting, through sheer mechanical repetition. The neighbors whispered about the glaze in her eyes, just as they whispered about the roundness of her belly. They wanted to know how many months it had been since she'd had a show of crimson. How disgraceful it would be for such a scandal to arise while her husband's body was still hot in its grave...but not that hot. Not hot enough that it was impossible she carried his child...but who could say for sure. Not even she could say as much.

Yes...she could admit it quietly to herself. She had taken lovers. Just a few, when the depth of her loneliness made tears pool on her pillow at night like wells of moonlight. She was young still: beautiful, driven by her passions. The guilt she felt afterwards was almost too much to bear; her shame clawed at her from within the womb. But in her heart there was still a flicker of hope. This seed had been planted too carefully, too tenderly for it to have been done by any hands other than those she held so dear.

One of her lovers, Mr. Linden, an old colleague of her husband's who had comforted her through so much midnight weeping, wanted to ask the most. She could see the question burning in his eyes as he rang her doorbell one morning, shattering her dream of hazy flowers like a stone skipping across a still pond. He had come to return a book, he said. One of her husband's old journals from a project they'd worked on together. He hadn't felt right keeping it after the death, but he advised her not to spend too much time dwelling on it. The question remained unasked as she closed the door again, clutching the journal.

Of course she would look.

He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late. On her pillow the book lay that night, open to a page marked by a sprig of some vine with dried green leaves. Pressed leaves. Ivy leaves. Her eyes devoured the small, precise penmanship, written by those hands that had cupped her chin and brushed tears from her cheeks. Feeling welled up in her like frothing, effervescent waves. One word jumped out again and again: Ivy. The name of the vine, along with a cramped list of its characteristics and growing habits. He'd liked to have it rooted wild around the house; this was not the first page he'd marked with such an odd bookmark.

Tears stung her eyes as the smell wafted up to her, the same smell that had once clung to those large, comforting hands that smoothed her hair behind her ears, the smell of life and growing things. Like the baby nestled within her.

Wetness rolled down her gaunt cheeks in neat rows, like the words of the dead man scrawled within this journal. The pieces were finally coming together. Nothing was hidden from her now. She loved her husband and his memory; she loved the baby within her, the last piece of him she had on this Earth.

The baby was a girl, and her name would be Ivy.