Growing up, I’d been a fan of being told stories when I went to sleep at night. My mother would tuck me in, making sure I was as comfortable as I could be under my blue-and-green covers before diving into another anecdote of her own choice. Her stories were always pleasant, and in the event that I found one a bit scary, she’d tone it down a bit for me. They ranged from all origins: some had been passed down through her family, some she’d memorized from books and fairy tales. Some were her own creations, and some were true stories, but typically I liked each and every one of them. A select few had appealed to me greatly, and I’d memorized them, able to retell them by heart whenever I desired.
The year of my ninth birthday, my mother fell ill. She would have various spasms throughout the day, vomiting all that she consumed. Some days were worse than others, and she would vomit blood instead. Her arms developed new scars on their own, and we never knew where they came from. Some were shallow and barely left a mark, while others were deep enough to spurt blood and beg for stitches. She’d cry in pain throughout the night, weeping out “it hurts, it hurts” all night long. I began to fear the night, began to tear up every time I saw the moon rise and tell me that my mother’s pain was about to begin anew, that the cycle was about to repeat yet again.
Even through her pain and suffering, my mother still always summed up the strength to limp into my room, ease herself onto the edge of my bed and comfort me with a story.
In her last few days, her stories would become shorter and shorter, as though she were trying to adjust to the thought of a night without telling me a story, or at least trying to get me to. A night which she would sleep and not awaken. A night which was foreshadowed by her condition. She tended to stay to telling me true stories in those last days of hers, weaving tales of her childhood and the memories of her graduation from college to pass the fleeting hours by. The shorter her stories became, the more anguished I was at the thought of losing my mother.
One night, the night she passed away, to be precise, she told me a story I’d never heard before, in a tone I’d never heard her use. It wasn’t evil or dark, per-say. It struck me more as a soft, motherly tone, but with a hidden inlay of sadness and depression, and just a hint of malevolence locked into the words. She’d been looking particularly sad and tormented by her pain that night. She’d cried and cried all day, gashes having opened in her legs overnight. I was considering offering to let her skip her story tonight, although she hadn’t missed a single story since I was a baby. It was like a tradition, a ritual. However, my less child-like instincts had told me, in a dark cloud in the back of my mind, that this may be the last story my mother ever tells me. It had been telling me this for weeks, but I believed the voice now more than ever.
She’d sat down on the foot of my bed again tonight, as she always had. She looked weary, exhausted, crippled, ready to finally submit to death’s embrace after her battle. She held my hand this night: she typically only held my hand while telling me a story if it was a stormy night, or if I’d felt scared for one reason or another. Tonight, I only felt sadness at her composure, at the way she was presented. I found myself more disturbed that she was doing this to me tonight, since there wasn’t a cloud to be found in the sky. She took a deep breath and began, her voice as weary as the rest of her.
“Flowers are a delicate thing, my son. Always remember that. They have just as much voice and volume as the rest of us, and yet they choose to stay rooted in the ground, portraying messages to one another silently. Over the centuries, we’ve begun to understand these messages. Think of how flowers are used today, what signs they convey. We pass roses onto our lovers. White carnations are an aspect of weddings, often. Sunflowers may be the sort of thing we grow with our loved ones, to remember and cherish them by. Every flower has a meaning, and we have long yet to understand them all. As you live your life, examine each and every flower you see, for it may be trying to tell you something important.”
Sleeping that night was rough, as I was tossing and turning, trying to ignore my mother’s cries of pain. They were more jagged tonight, more agonized, more foreboding of her passing than ever. Around 11:00, they ceased for good. I sobbed quietly into my pillow, reciting my mother’s stories to myself in the depths of my mind, trying to keep her next to me as long as I possibly could.
Her funeral was arranged, and I was stone-faced as I gazed at the spectacle of my mother’s burying on that day. My father was crying, my aunts and uncles were crying, my grandparents were crying, and yet, standing there, dressed in a mourning shade of black, I felt not a drop of sadness. Her agony was gone, and she was in a better place now. I still had her stories, and every time I heard one I felt warmer.
With the exception of the her final story, that is.
No matter how many times I’d recited it to myself, having stored it deep in my memory, I never felt a single drop of warmth from it. It sounded too depressed and laced with surrender to enjoy. It didn’t feel like a story, more like a passage you might see in a textbook, or something similar. Over the years, I’d finally forgotten the entire story, save the general idea of it, the explanation of the messages of the flowers. Unable to follow in my mother’s footsteps, I never saw anything special about the flowers as she did, or might have.
Nine years after her death, as my eighteenth birthday drew near, I went to visit my mother’s grave. Our soil was quite fertile where I had grown up, and naturally, flowers had sprung up around her gravestone, which, in itself, was faded and riddled with vines and leaves. I was no expert on flowers, but I recognized the plants themselves to be violets. One, I noticed, was tenderly pushing at the topsoil, trying to bathe itself in the warmth of the sun and evolve into the beauty of those around it. Although it had been so long since I’d heard her story or visited her grave, I felt drawn, attached, almost, to this tiny bud beneath the soil. I felt as though there was a secret tangled in its roots, and I shook my head at the thought that a plant, of all things, could be hiding something from me.
Nevertheless, that night, I vomited for no reason. I called in sick to work, and my girlfriend, who’d been staying with me for several months, called up a doctor to make a house call and examine me. I was feverish, and felt flu-like symptoms, but there was nothing the doctor saw that was out of the ordinary. Albeit our confusion at the causeless symptoms, he ordered me to be put on bedrest for several days, and gave me medicine for the nausea.
The next morning, I went to visit my mother’s grave again, almost drawn there by an invisible force. Something compelled me to visit, and I wasn’t sure what it was, exactly. I prayed to her, as I always did, and told her about my day. As I was just about to leave, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the violet seedling had germinated a bit more, just beginning to develop its first leaves.
The next day, I awoke with slashes on my arms that burned, swelling and oozing as though they were infected. My girlfriend, who was trained in First Aid, immediately wrapped them in tight bandages after coating them in a thick layer of disinfectant. There were four total, all of varying depths and severities. The pain became more intense at night, and the moment the moon climbed to the top of the night sky, I shouted in agony at the stars, my wounds ablaze in unseen pain, as though someone was tearing away at my skin just beneath them. Even through this pain, I awoke at the crack of dawn to visit my mother’s grave once more. The baby violet was growing at a steady pace, its leaf halfway grown, and four small buds protruding from the stem.
The following hours of the day, I was weary, my pain having dulled during the day from my gashes, and spent most of the day lying in bed as my girlfriend checked on me occasionally, leaving a fresh wet cloth on my forehead, or sitting and spooning hot soup into my mouth. I was lethargic and desired sleep more than anything on this planet, but found my body wracked with insomnia. My exhaustion tormented me to the point where I was seeing things. Shadows moving out of the corners of my eyes. Objects moving ever so slightly, as though they were being pushed or pulled. Everything seemed to fuel my paranoia. Nevertheless, I was drawn to my mother’s grave by a magnetic force yet again, my eyes heavy and blurry from the lack of rest. Although the view blurred and swam before my eyes, I could clearly see the slowly blossoming buds on the stem of the growing violet.
That morning, I began to see the first symptoms of my vision fading. I couldn’t tell certain objects apart anymore, and obviously I was unable to read. My skin was becoming pale, my best features leaving me one by one. Even with glasses I was barely unable to tell my girlfriend apart from a man walking down the street, or a child playing tag with his friends outside. As the day progressed, my vision blurred and darkened, so that by night, there wasn’t much difference between what I saw when I closed my eyes and what I saw when I opened them. My wounds burned again as usual, and I knew my time was coming soon. Even so, I found myself begging my girlfriend to drive me to my mother’s grave the next morning, and she watched helplessly as I limped to my mother’s grave, giving her a brief prayer before gazing down at the plant. It was too large to call a seedling now, as it was nearing complete maturity, its buds slowly opening and nearing full bloom before my dimming eyes.
The fifth day of my nightmarish sickness, there were no new symptoms, and everything seemed to dull, as though my pain was nearing its end at last, but with its passing would follow my whole life, my being, my existence. That day, my girlfriend sobbed as I told her that I was nearing the end. I jotted down a detailed will as I awaited the doctor’s arrival as we called him once more. He told me solemnly that there was nothing he could do, and yet I felt no remorse that I would finally be relieved of my illness. After all the preparations were made, including my girlfriend calling up a funeral home tearfully in advance, I asked for one last drive to my mother’s grave.
My girlfriend helped me limp towards the symbolic stone, yet again, and I felt my strength fading the closer I drew to it. Just as I reached down to touch the stone one last time before I passed on, the ground came out from under me, meeting the side of my face head on. My girlfriend shrieked, picking up the phone and pounding the keys for 911 to do what they could for me. As blood trickled from both my skull and my mouth, I saw, just as my eyes began to close for the final time, that the violet was in full bloom, a deep indigo, as though all this time it had leeched off of my spirit.
Who would be next to fertilize the violets, as my mother and I had?