Leal closed his eyes and imagined happier times. Happier is not really the word to describe it, it was better than now, but not as good as years gone by. Leal felt fortunate, if one could consider all that has happened and his survival fortuitous. Happy wasn’t a word that described much these days.
Leal opened his eyes and saw it. A rounded stone, inscribed with his wife’s name. Born; Died. Mother; Wife. The tombstone was atop a cliff next to his home. The children watered flowers on the grave with what water they could spare. Somehow the tree over his wife’s final resting place never seemed to shed its leaves. Leal told his children it was due to their consummate care, but in the silence and darkness of his thoughts, he knew the truth. It was a truth he’d kept from the world for so long, but now…
Leal felt a shudder as a cold wind blew in from the ocean. Kneeling there, the cold was the first thing he noticed. The smell was the second. All around him everything was dying. He stared out at the endless ocean before he removed his mask and gloves to wipe away the tears. The coating of grime scratched his cheek. When he returned, he knew his daughter would scold him for removing the protective gear.
Again he looked past the tree and saw the unbroken pane of water, smooth like polished glass. He took a deep breath, savoring the only clean smell on the wretched rock he called home. He closed his eyes again.
I miss you so much…
“Father, come inside. It’s not safe out here.”
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Despite the layers of protection, he knew it was Nichelle.
How does she tolerate my behavior? He thought, she doesn’t know…
“I’ll be in in a moment, pumpkin,” he said aloud.
Nichelle squeezed her father’s shoulder and he could hear her footsteps recede on the packed ground. Sighing, he picked up a wilted flower and placed it tenderly on the grave. Although he’d seen it hundreds of times, it still amazed him to see life return to it. The petals of his wife’s favorite flower got brighter; the leaves turned a much deeper green. The yellow, purple and green made him smile, but that happiness was short lived. Standing, he grabbed the flower and crushed it in his hands. Tossing it over the cliff, he saw the leaves and petals wilt once again.
No, the world is not ready for you…
With his bare hand he touched the rounded stone and felt warmth. It flowed up his arm and radiated filling him with hope. He sniffled, wiped away another grimy tear and whispered, “I love you.”
* * *
“What took you so long?” Nichelle demanded, but she conveyed an understanding of the sadness she knew her father felt.
“I miss your mother.”
“I know, Father. She’ll always be in our hearts.”
Leal sighed. “It’s getting late, let’s go to bed. Tomorrow will be another day.
His girls shared. His son slept on a pile of blankets in the common room. Leal fell asleep in a chair in the room he had shared with his wife. He couldn’t bring himself to lie in the empty bed. After so many years, slumbering in the chair became a welcome habit.
* * *
I must be dreaming. The words formed in his head. I hear your voice.
“Darling, wake up!”
Leal smiled and opened his eyes. He drank in the vision of his wife’s smiling face. He could only stare as she tilted her head slightly and whispered, “Come with me.”
I could live in this moment forever. The dream was always the same. He knew she wasn’t real, but he felt her presence nonetheless.
She reached out and caressed his cheek. He felt warm at her touch.
Something’s not right.
I reached up to hold her hand and felt his sadness fade.
Her eyes beckoned him and as she turned to walk out the door, he felt the sadness return as their contact was broken.
“Come with me,” she whispered.
He got up to follow her as he had so many times before. His feet caused the floorboards to creep, but she glided along the floor silently.
This is different.
The daughter Leal adopted a few years after Nichelle was born stood there staring at the mother she never knew. The frail girl’s eyes were dark as they had been since she fell ill. She’d never been in his dreams before.
The specter of Leal’s wife nodded.
“My name’s Jahia,” she spoke with a proud determination.
Silently Leal’s wife walked to the little girl and kissed her atop her head. The embrace lasted a few tender moments and when she pulled away, Jahia’s eyes are clear and bright. It looked as if the sickness was gone.
Leal stepped towards his wife. “Akila? My most beautiful wife. What’s happening?”
Tears welled up in Akila’s eyes and she walked out the front door. Leal left his adopted daughter standing there, her shoulders rising and falling sharply as she cried.
This is only a dream…
He followed Akila to the front door. Normally, this was where the dream always ended. He would awake in his chair, cold sweat drenching his hair and shirt.
But this time… This time the dream continued.
Next: Final Farewell