This was one of the bad days. The pain was worse today, and it didn't help that the weather was rainy so that even if she had felt like doing something she'd be stuck in the house. Still, it gave her a good excuse to sit for a couple of hours and watch one of Sam Smith's movies on TV. It wasn't one of her favorites, but she enjoyed seeing it again anyway. He was so good-looking, and it was easy to give his face to her dreams.
When the movie was over she got up and cleaned the kitchen. She was doing good these days to keep the place picked up, and she wished she could do more. Her friends helped her now, some of them, and there was little she could do to help anyone else. Of course she hadn't expected to get sick. She looked forward to getting better and then maybe she'd find whatever was missing from her life.
She'd been happily retired, president of the local Garden Club, treasurer of one charity, secretary of another, and volunteered at the hospital as well. She'd had scads of friends, always going somewhere and doing something with them. She loved helping people - friends and their families, neighbors, perfect strangers; it didn't matter.
She wasn't able to do any of that now. Now, friends came to visit her and took her to the doctor. She had her garden and other hobbies to keep her occupied, but it wasn't the same. Her husband had passed away a few years ago and she wouldn't mind finding someone else to spend her life with. But that really wasn't what she was looking for either. She wasn't unhappy, but somehow she felt something was lacking from her life, yet couldn't put a name to it.
Her daughter Karen called later in the afternoon to check up on her. She told Karen the doctor was sending her to another specialist; she had high hopes that this one could help, and she'd let her know what he said in a couple of weeks. Karen said they were doing fine, Tim was up for a promotion but it might mean they'd have to relocate. Karen would probably insist she move with them, but her daughter was busy with her own life and really didn't need Mom hanging around.
She needed to find something else to do. The kitchen floor ought to be mopped, but she wasn't up to it today. She sat down at her desk and picked up her latest drawing of Sam. This one was almost done, and soon she was absorbed in the work. When she finally finished she was pleased with the result, and carried it to the big montage on the wall.
"Where should this one go?" she asked aloud, holding the picture up in various spots. The whole thing was silly, fan art at its worst, but it was something fun to do and she enjoyed walking by and looking at the pictures. It was a visual reminder that it was OK to dream even if this was only a substitute for an as-yet unnamed dream. When she found that dream, it would be just as lovely. She found the right place and added the drawing to the collection.
The next few days were no better, but she kept herself occupied and waited for the specialist's appointment. She'd gotten good at waiting. It helped when she knew what she was waiting for because eventually it would happen and then the waiting would be over. Having something to look forward to helped keep her from trying to figure out what it was she was really waiting for.
Another day was over, a pleasant day; she'd gotten some work done but also taken some time to smell the roses as it were. She'd cooked dinner and cleaned up after, now it was time to rest. Nothing on TV, so she pulled out one of her favorite Sam Smith movies on DVD. He was the Good Guy in this one; she'd like to find someone kind like that, wouldn't she? Why couldn't she figure out what she really wanted? She fell asleep that night thinking about it all.
She had the strangest dream. She couldn't move, and yet somehow she leapt upward without moving at all. When the levitation ended she found herself in an unlimited and featureless white place which was illuminated by a dazzling light emanating from no apparent source. She felt like she was floating, but there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Everywhere she looked she saw only emptiness and that bright white light; she wandered aimlessly, not really exploring, not really thinking, just existing.
She didn't hurt anymore, and was neither hungry nor tired. She was vaguely aware of time passing, yet nothing changed. After an infinite moment the vast empty space suddenly blossomed with huge transparent dancing red-and-orange flames. As it surrounded her the illusion gave off a painless heat, and when it began to fade she became aware that she was slowly falling into darkness. The dark was as encompassing as the light had been, but now instead of floating she felt a delicious lethargy. There was no need to move, no reason to move, no desire to move; just lie there and wait. But wait for what?
Outside the funeral home Karen paused, grief making her suddenly uncertain why she was here and what she was supposed to be doing.
"C'mon Karen, let's take your mom home," Tim said quietly. "We can decide what to do with the ashes in a few days. We'll put the urn on the mantle until we do." He put his arm around Karen's shoulders and gently guided her to the car.
"I thought she was doing OK, going to get better." Karen began sobbing as they walked. Tim pulled her closer to his side. "She was supposed to see that specialist today and he was going to find a cure. This wasn't supposed to happen."
"I know Sweetie, I know," Tim told her. "She was worse than we thought, but she's not hurting anymore. I wish right now she was telling you all about the doctor's diagnosis. I'll miss her too, but she's at peace now Honey, remember that. "
At home Karen cried softly as Tim rearranged the knickknacks on the mantle, then set the urn full of her mother's ashes in the middle, pride of place. It was a beautiful urn; the enterprising young man at the funeral home had talked her into buying the most expensive one, but she was glad she had. Mom deserved it.
"She didn't say a lot about it, but I think she was lonely," Karen said. "Her friends kind of abandoned her when she couldn't do so much anymore. Maybe here she'll feel our presence – maybe we should just leave her here for awhile."
Tim smiled tenderly at Karen, knowing this wasn't the time to argue. He wanted to say "It's just her ashes, she's not really here." But Karen knew that, she just needed time to adjust.
A few days later Tim dropped by his mother-in-law's house on the way home from work. Karen was busy cleaning out the closets, piling up clothes for Goodwill, and bagging up the keepsakes she wanted before they put the house on the market.
"How's it going?" he asked. "Are you OK doing this? We could get someone to help if you want."
Karen shook her head and said "It needs to be done and I'm the only one who can make most of the decisions. But I'm not at all sure what to do with this." She pointed to the drawings on the wall. "She put a lot of work into it, and laughed about how silly it was, but I know she enjoyed making it. I hate to just throw it away, but I don't want it hanging in our house either!"
"Yeah, we all teased her about her fan crush on Sam, but she knew it was a game and she got a kick out of it. Maybe you should send it to the guy, let him see what his fans think about him."
Karen looked at Tim like he was nuts, then burst out laughing. "Mom would've been soooo embarrassed, but what the heck, I like the idea! And I can pretend I didn't toss it out so I don't have to feel guilty about that. Here, just help me roll it up and I'll mail it off tomorrow."
"Hey, Sam! How's it goin'?" Linda asked as the star walked into her office. "What can I do for you today?"
"You said you wanted to talk about publicity for my next movie, so here I am," Sam replied.
"Yeah, I've got some questions. Oh, by the way, look what showed up in the mail last week." She stood up from her desk to pull a collage of hand-drawn pictures off the top of a filing cabinet. "Some woman sent it, said her mother made it, she was a big fan of yours. But Mom passed on and she thought you might get a kick out of it. Pretty schmaltzy, right Sam?"
Sam looked at the pictures. The artistry could've been a little better, but what struck him was the time, effort, and caring that had been put into this project. He knew fans were nutty, but found himself touched that a fan would've done this.
"You know I wouldn't be where I am today without the support of my fans, I need them. Why don't you have it framed and hang it in the office?" he asked.
"Oh Sam! You're kidding, right?" Linda was aghast at the very idea.
"Well, OK, file it away somewhere. But don't throw it away – and send a note to the family from me. I've lost a fan, but they've lost a mother."
"I'll think of something real nice for 'you' to say. Now, let's talk about your next project."
She lay there in the darkness, doing nothing, waiting again. She wondered why she was there, what she was waiting for. Surely there was a reason she was still here, wherever "here" was. She had a pretty good idea, but that didn't answer her question.
Though it was dark she could sense people around her, feel the faint vibration of their movements past her, hear a soft buzzing that she somehow knew was voices though she couldn't understand them. She should've felt comforted by their presence, but she wasn't. They weren't there for her, she was just part of the background. The presences flickered in and out; time was passing in some odd jerky way and she waited, as always.
There came a time when she realized she smelled the sweet perfume of roses seeping into the dark. It was a comforting aroma, in some way she couldn't quite understand.
Time passed, in the strange non-way that she seemed to accept now. She thought of it as "sleeping", although she knew that wasn't quite the word.
It was odd, sometimes she seemed almost aware of her surroundings, and then somehow she knew it was much later. For one thing, the rose fragrance had faded, though it still lingered faintly above her. She found that sad, for the roses had been special in some way she couldn't understand and yet that too was slipping away.
She woke to feel herself moving in some new way – not within the darkness, but the darkness itself moving, rocking, sliding. She heard a humming noise too, but in a bit the activity faded. One last sensation of swaying motion stopped with a final thump and clink, and somehow the darkness changed. It was a little less dark, the odor of roses a little stronger. She began to realize that she could see, just a little bit. Red, she saw dark red hanging over her. It was comforting somehow, as if it were reaching out to help her. She slept again.
And awoke to a strange sensation, one she hadn't felt for ages. Touch. The touch of something soft against her mind, for she knew she no longer had a body in the usual sense. It was like a hand touching hers, kind and gentle and meant to soothe. More touches came at random intervals, and the rose-smell grew stronger. She saw red shapes when she looked at herself.
Something was finally happening. Her wait was almost over, just a little while longer and she'd understand. She slept less often, anticipating the next touch and luxuriating in the feel of it when it came. Soon she was completely covered, warm and comforted by this presence. It was meant just for her, to keep her company.
She understood at last. Someone had needed her, maybe just in some small way. Someone had sent the roses to let her know that. It didn't matter who, didn't matter that they hadn't touched the flowers themselves. The roses were only a symbol, yet compassion had imbedded the thought of that need into the petals so that she could feel its touch. Just as her longing to be needed had kept her thoughts here. She slept, at peace, knowing the waiting was over.
Tim opened the storage unit door and peered in at the mess. A box had fallen from its perch and scattered its contents all over the couch. "Hey, Karen. Bring me a bag, will ya? This one broke and stuff's dumped all over the place."
Karen handed him a bag and surveyed the damage. "Nothing broken, just a mess. Wait a minute, it bumped the box with Mom's urn. I knew we shouldn't have left it in storage all this time. But between the move and finding a new house I forgot all about it."
"It's all right Honey, the top's just been knocked off," Tim said. "And the vase tipped over, the dried rose petals all fell off into the urn. See, here's the card on top."
"Sure was a nice gesture for Sam to send the roses," Karen said. "We might as well leave them in the urn, they were meant for her. Put the lid back on, and we'll take her home."