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Drama Fantasy Mystery

There he is again, standing under the old mango tree in the back garden below my room, looking up at my window. He wears the shifting shadows of branches and leaves that sieve moonlight. His once-white shirt and black trousers drenched in subsoil are reduced to strips that hang to his body like the shadow of life that still hangs to his youthful corpse.

After hours watching him under the moonlight, I turn to bed. Sleep comes in slow breaths, the pauses filled with anticipation for the day to come, for the rituals of the morning.

Our lives are filled with rituals, small and large. We don't think twice about most of them. They find their way into our lives, giving order to that which has none. Each night I have a ritual before going to bed: close the curtain, prepare clothes for the morning, caress the half torn photo that shows just the two of us by the beach, adjust my hair in the mirror, set my slippers by the corner of the bed, pray to the god of the shepherds and groves and glens, with a silver knife between my palms, to give me the strength to do what I must come morning.

I sleep on my side of the bed, an old habit to leave space for someone that left a long time ago. Habit or another ritual, perhaps.

Rituals give meaning to the unexplainable, and reassurance and comfort in the face of the unknown. Just as there're rituals to follow when welcoming new life, death comes with its own rituals, for there're old ways that must be followed to send the deceased on their way.

I did not want to send him away.

Mornings have their own ritual. I wake up before sunrise and wait by the window. He does not stir, does not move a muscle unless a pre-dawn breeze plays with his muddy hair. I don't like him like this, but I know he can't help it. I always liked making accommodations for him, anyway. Once his cheeky grin was a reward. Now, the fact that some part of him still comes home is reward enough.

As the soft glow of the rising sun envelopes him, I began to get ready. Timing is important. I must keep my distance. He's not malicious. He just doesn't know any better.

I had set aside a pink full sleeve top and a burgundy skirt the night before. Once dressed, I get the silver knife, go downstairs, prepare a light breakfast — tea and sandwiches to go, and his favourite flowers — orchids — from our back garden. He planted them himself. He had begged me to let him grow a garden, though he called it his gadda then, dragging around a bucket as large as he and handing out flowers he'd grown in his imagination. He was a fast learner, a natural green thumb. I knew right away he had the gift — the gift that I have, that my mother had before me, and her mother before. I would've taught him everything — the secrets of the earth and the moon, of talents whispered from mother to daughter.

I barely taught him at all.

He's always gone when I walk out the front door, and as always there's a moment of panic. The things you see under the moonlight may not survive the sun. It's hard to believe he'll be up ahead when I turn the corner.

Then, as always, I turn the corner and there he is, walking away into the soft glow of the golden sun. Keeping my distance from him is hard. Resisting the urge to feel the warmth of his body is hard. But he's not warm, and I can never get close enough to touch him ever again.

There are rules. There are rituals. So, I must keep my distance.

We walk in silence, across the stream, and along the narrow winding road up the hill. There are no houses on the way to the cemetery, a graveyard that hasn't been used in generations. But things grow there. It's teeming with life just under the surface. Some might find the sheer vibrancy of life there offensive.

If the years following his death taught me how fragile and hollow life was, the years since his return have taught me to appreciate the details. I never thought I'd get to walk with him again, or find myself preparing something for him everyday, or find myself waiting for his return at the end of each day.

There was a day when the wait almost killed me. Waiting for him to come home, watching the hours slip by, feeling the warmth of anticipation turn to the heat of anger — anger at him for worrying me — finally turn to cold dread. And then, the sudden loud knell of the phone. Well, the phone won't ring anymore. Hasn't rung in years.

I took my time cresting the hill. The climb isn't easy for him. He was never an athletic boy. He found companions among the soil and the roots. Orchids, and red hibiscus, and white lilies were his best friends. Besides, I needed to give him time to settle in. There's just something private about a young man climbing down into his own grave. He's almost eighteen, after all.

"Good night my dear."

I place the orchids in his hands. I brush the dirt off my skirt and get up. The smell of freshly dug earth, of new life growing under the soil, fills my soul with each deep breath. I pick up the shovel next his headstone.

When I am done, the sun has settled itself comfortably into a cloudless summer morning. I put the shovel back next to the headstone. I don't wince anymore as I cut my palm with the small silver knife.

Three drops of red love for one more day with family.

"Justin Thomas. March 10, 2003 - April 12, 2017.

In the warm embrace of the earth are all good things rejuvenated."

June 07, 2021 21:20

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8 comments

Kelly Dennison
15:50 Jun 10, 2021

... I...still don't know how to feel? The poetry of your words reads so easily. There's a depth to the rhythm that's deceptively soothing. I feel like you were intentionally flippant about the literal corpse waiting until morning to return to his grave. I feel haunted by his presence, sad for his short lived life, grieved for his mother who continues offering him a half life because HOW do you say goodbye to your baby? And also a little surprised by the ending itself...the continual giving, through ritual, of tangible 'red love' to ke...

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Kelly Dennison
15:54 Jun 10, 2021

Ugh hold on. I think I have more. I know you didn't dwell on it, but my goodness...the strength she must have had to resist touching her son. Knowing he was there, in a way, but forever unable to connect again. I think my heart hurts...

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Rohit Mukundan
17:22 Jun 10, 2021

Thank you so much! Usually I spend a lot of time on plotting, but this time I tried something different and was going more or less scene by scene. I had no idea if it worked or not and wasn't sure about posting it. So hearing this is really reassuring. 😅

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Kelly Dennison
14:26 Jun 11, 2021

It works!!

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Kristin Neubauer
18:43 Jun 18, 2021

This is an amazing story.....I love how allude to the fact that Justin is a zombie without coming out and saying it and without including all the zombie cliches. This read like literary zombie fiction - you may have created a new genre! Super-creative and super-touching. Wonderful!

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Rohit Mukundan
20:46 Jun 18, 2021

😂 Thanks. I wonder if there actually is a literary zombie novel out there.

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N K
08:39 Jun 13, 2021

This was such an amazing story, and such an original way to approach the prompt. I love how the title ties in right at the end and oh my goodness, that epitaph is so fitting and perfect! The character of the mother was wonderfully created and every detail makes sense and helps the reader get a full picture of what type of person she is and the immense pain she went through. Such a great job!

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Rohit Mukundan
09:21 Jun 13, 2021

\(^•^)/ Thank you.

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