Pebbles and Petals

The lingering kiss of my hiking boots against the asphalt was the echo of a whisper, muffled by the thin film of rainwater that had not yet drained or evaporated away from the bitumen now almost simmering under the dragon’s breath of the spring sun. The sea change in the weather was almost ominous, but only the most paranoid would read portents into the shifting of the winds and I’m not paranoid. Paranoia implies that your fears are unjustified.

Shifting awkwardly in my overcoat, I gripped the stems firmly, the light plastic wrapping paper crinkling around the heads of the roses. I was going to see a women who I hadn’t seen in a very long time. It had been decades, in fact. Those years weighed heavily on my shoulders as I pushed open the black gates and made my way along the gravelled path between the rows of elder trees, blooming but not yet bearing fruit.

I saw her first, standing under the willow where we’d arranged to meet. Dignified and poised as always, her beauty alight in the fire of the sky. My heart fluttered, the nervous lump in my throat like a tumour. This was the moment of truth, even if I wasn’t going to be completely honest with her.

She didn’t recognise me at first, but then she saw the flowers clutched in my hand and her richly-toned face was suddenly corpse pale. She didn’t say anything as I approached, made no sign of acknowledgement. She just watched as I ambled across the grass to meet her, the dread building in my chest like an asthma attack that no inhaler could relieve. After just a minute, there was only a couple of feet between us, at most. I opened my mouth to speak.

She slapped me.

“Hi, mom.”

She slapped me again.

“It’s been twenty years, Benjamin. Surely you have something better to say than that.”

I swallowed.

“I’m dying.”

She didn’t say anything. If that woman is made of stone, it’s only because she had to claw her way out of solid rock to get where she wanted in life. Still, even stones weep sometimes and the tears rose like a spring into the wells of her eyes. I don’t know if it was the best thing to do, but I embraced her. She reacted after a couple of awkward seconds and accepted the hug, but my mother has never been one for public displays of affection, so it didn’t last very long. When we broke, we both turned to the simple gravestone embedded in the ground, the stone face declaring the final resting place of my father. I crouched and let the bouquet fall from my hands on to the pebble-covered plot where the worms were feeding on the body of the man who made me. Somewhere across the forest of granite tablets, I could see the monster that changed me, but my mother was thankfully oblivious to its presence. I suppose men in black suits aren’t exactly an uncommon site in graveyards.

We talked a little more, trivialities and memories, the same nonsense you’d hear at any family reunion. Afterwards, we went for dinner at her restaurant, a classy and intimate affair nestled in the suburbs of Richmond, Indiana. When we were done, I turned down an offer to spend the night at her house and promised to call her soon. I don’t know if I will. I don’t even know if she really wants me to.

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