Just a mile from the cemetery is when he always remembers the rose. But this always reminds him of the 711 nearby. They sell roses. One for a dollar. Convenient for people like him.
He pulls into the 711, gasses up the Explorer, scans the snack isle, relieves himself in the smelly restroom, says “how ya doin?” to the clerk, and pays for the rose. He pulls back onto the road before making a right onto the dirt path leading towards the cemetery. It’s a one-way that can only fit a single car. With trees on both sides, he always wonders what he’d do if another car came the other way. Never happens. Including this time. Lucked out again. Something always seems to watch over him as he enters.
The countless tombstones, poking up from the summer grass. Cold hard reminders of what we become. Some have flowers on top. Some have little American flags in front. Some have nothing. Others have fallen over. Dead weight.
He spots the groundkeeper’s truck, an old Chevy, parked alongside a rusty shed. He always parks next to it but never sees the man. Maybe it’s a woman. Whatever, don’t think too much. Just get out, walk down the field, put the rose on the grave, and leave. He opens the door. His boots hit the squishy ground. The air is muggy. It’s always muggy around this time.
Her grave is approximately twenty feet behind an old Civil War canon. The big stone with the name FOREMAN sits behind four smaller ones, lined horizontally. She has the one farthest right. A newer stone. Prettier than the others. A gray plastic cat in the loaf position sits next to it. Twenty dollars at Wal-Mart. It needed a home. She needed the company. It made sense.
Looking at her grave is like a dream. Not a happy dream. Not a sad dream. Just a dream. That all-too-familiar out-of-body dimension bringing about the question of whether this is really happening. He brushes off dead leaves and lays the rose along the stone’s base. After this, he never knows what to do. He draws blank, but still promises not to cry. He always promises not to cry. Keep emotions in check. No use crying anymore. Eventually, you’ll have to stop. Right?
Yet the grip releases and allows something. A spiritual being like a wild animal. Once caged, escapes. It runs through those secret hallways with forgotten doors. It turns the handles that have been slammed shut from fear of seeing what’s beyond.
It pushes one open. Her beautiful smile, her blue eyes. It opens another one. Her quiet strength, never giving up when life wanted her to. And then another. Her loving embrace when the world had beaten him down. She was there, always. And finally, it turns handle on the biggest door. He sees the diagnosis, the chemo, the hospice, the viewing and the funeral. All of it spills onto the white marble floor, making a giant mess impossible to wipe away.
His face becomes two hands squeezing invisible fruit. He covers his eyes as if hot cinders flew into them. He never cried here before. He never wanted to, but he always wanted to. To hell with it. Let it out. Let it all out. Spill it onto the floor. Let’s see it.
Tears stay, chilling his fleshy cheeks. For once, he’ll just let something go. A glass breaks, a white hair on a black shirt, dirt smears a white shoe. Clean it up. Right? Return it to that corrective state, that artificial sterility. After all, it might infect something. It might serve its purpose.
He’s grown tired of hiding. Just let it all fall like water from an overflowing bathtub. Watch it roll down the stairs until it’s onto the yard, until it soaks into the dirt and grows something.
And the doors stay open. The spirit roams free as the son takes a deep breath like a newborn child. He takes another, and then another, trying to find the rhythm. There, he’s got it.
He says good-bye, for now. He turns and walks up to the Explorer. He opens the door, turns the key, and begins his quiet drive home. And still, no one ever comes down the one-way path. No one ever blocks the exit. Something always watches over the departures.
Christopher J. Campion is a freelance writer pursuing a MFA from Wilkes University.
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page