Autumnal Equinox 2002
ACK HAD BEEN DEAD for less than a year when his widow spotted something gray in a corner of the cellar that resembled a heap of dust but throbbed like the heart of a dying man.
A sudden heart attack claimed him nine short months ago…
She had his body cremated.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sara passed the heap of dust whenever she brought her filthy clothes over to the washing machine. She couldn't avoid it. The first time the heap moved she bit her lip and shrugged it off, along with a sudden chill that crept through the open cellar door.
Hastily, she dumped her dirty dresses into the washer--all of them were black--and closed the lid. She passed the heap again on her way upstairs, and shuddered. She didn't stop shaking until she bolted the cellar door. In a half-hour she would have to go back down to put her dresses in the dryer; she dreaded the thought.
Sara wore her wedding dress, dyed black for Jack's funeral.
Until death do us part.
His final resting place, a black urn with JACK etched in gold letters on the front, sat on the mantle, right next to their wedding photo. Two feet taller than she was, he resembled a gentle giant. His enormous arms held Sara tightly. Gingerly, she lifted the cold, gold frame and cherished the splendor of their wedding-day two decades ago, immaculately preserved for all the days of her life.
Sara closed her eyes and pictured herself hugging Jack as she cradled their wedding photo in her arms. She held her new husband; he held her as tightly in his strong arms as he did on their wedding day, and whispered words she would never forget: "I will always love you. I will never leave you. I want to make love to you forever."
She inhaled and smiled, seizing the moment, yearning for his tender touch. In her mind, Jack still smelled as fragrant as an orchard full of oranges. His eyes were as light as the sky, his hair as bright as the sun and his ashes gray as the heap of dust in the cellar. Slowly, Sara opened her eyes, and the fond memory faded to black.
Jack's ashes and their wedding photo were the only tangible mementos Sara had left to cherish. She set the picture down. Carefully, Sara lifted the urn's top and peered inside, seeking that familiar, fine powder that always greeted her; blackness prevailed where grayness should have been. She winced when she remembered the heap of dust in a corner of the cellar.
How did his ashes end up in the cellar?
The top slipped through her trembling fingers and shattered on the floor.
Sara shuffled over to the couch and collapsed. She never thought keeping Jack's ashes in the house would be such a burden.
Did I meet him when we were college sophomores or juniors?
Jack and Sara strolled across campus somewhere...She tried to remember where but couldn't. It didn't matter though, because he wore a University of Michigan sweatshirt. They paused in front of a sign that read: Psychology Laboratories. He practically lived in that building junior year.
Jack waved. Sara waved back.
Did he ask me out on our first date, or did I ask him?
They sat on a bed in an apartment. It was small but neat; Jack's place was always a mess, so Sara knew it was hers right away.
"I'm glad you came over." She smiled and moved closer.
He took his leather jacket off and tossed it in a corner. "I never mind spending quality time with pretty girls."
Sara blushed. "Do you spend a lot of your time with pretty girls?"
"None of them are as pretty as you." Jack took her hand in his and squeezed it hard enough to let her know he cared.
She brushed black locks away from her face. "I don't believe you."
He kissed her for a long time to prove his point.
The image lingered deep within the confines of her mind, like their first kiss, but it didn't last nearly as long.
Did we make love the first time in his apartment or mine?
They were at her place again. The lights were off; candles bathed the room in a warm, effervescent glow. Jack kissed her deeply. She held him tight. Their shirts, jeans, and underwear piled in a heap in the corner.
Jack loomed, trembling above her. "I love you."
"Then show me." She pulled him on top of her and guided him in.
Their movements were awkward and unsteady at first, but neither one of them minded much; desire bound them together. Sara wrapped her legs around his. Jack wrapped his arms around hers and squeezed tight.
Sara started to cry.
Did Jack get down on one knee when he proposed to me?
They stood in front of a blue two-story house. His arm was draped across her shoulder; her arm was wrapped around his waist. Sara's mother looked on from the front stoop, while her father snapped pictures of the happy couple. They smiled for the camera and tried not to blink.
Jack and Sara walked to the restaurant holding hands. He always squeezed harder than she did.
Joe's was right down the street. Their usual table was in a secluded, dark corner that made the candle between them romantic because it was the only source of light. Jack ordered a bottle of the finest red wine and a plate of spaghetti with meatballs for them to share.
After dinner he got down on a knee, opened a small, black box, and slipped a diamond ring on her finger and said, "Marry me, Sara."
She admired the ring. "Oh, Jack, I thought you'd never ask!"
The moment was snuffed out in her mind, like the candle burning brightly between them.
She headed for the cellar again. Proceeding with caution, Sara went over to the door and unbolted it. The stairs looked forbidding, even though the cellar light was on. She grabbed the sides of her dress and held them up so she wouldn't fall and end up sprawled out on the floor next to the harmless heap of dust, Jack's last hurrah.
When she neared it on her way back to the washer, Sara clenched her fists and stared at the dust. As she passed, the heap began to beat faster and faster, until it was moving so fast that it appeared to be standing still.
Sara lifted the washer's lid and tossed her wet, black dresses into the dryer. Her hasty attempt to make it upstairs without looking back was hindered by the sudden aroma of oranges.
Sara looked around.
The dust vanished!
She went over to the spot where it had been and touched the cold concrete with her fingers; not a speck remained. Sara ran upstairs, without looking back, and re-bolted the cellar door.
She found herself hovering over the lidless urn on the mantle, glancing inside once more. Grayness prevailed where blackness used to be; Jack was back.
Sara held the urn with sweaty, wavering hands and shut her eyes. Jack danced with her again, but he kept stepping on her toes. That didn't happen on their wedding day. Sara was sure of it.
Cautiously, she opened her eyes, startled to see her husband standing next to her. She placed her hand on his shoulder. This time it rested there, instead of passing through thin air.
Sara cringed at the gentle touch of a warm hand that smelled like oranges and screamed. Suddenly, the hand squeezed hers hard--it ached so badly it felt numb.
Jack let go of Sara's hand long enough to hug her harder than he ever hugged her before. He kept whispering the words he whispered in her ear so long ago over and over again, but they were different now: "I have always loved you; I will always love you. I have never left you; I will never leave you. I want to make love to you forever; I will make love to you forever."
He squeezed so hard that Sara's whole body started to throb so fast her heart could hardly keep up.
And the harmless heap of dust in the corner was the only thing she could remember.
© 2002 Amy Grech, all rights reserved
Autumnal Equinox 2002 Issue, Updated October 4, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.