The sun sank behind darkening mountains, finally allowing the hot earth to rest from another day of having all color baked to brown in the harsh desert. Around the shadowed peaks a white canvas was stretched where purples and pinks and oranges birthed a living painting in the clouds. For just a moment the sky gifts the desert beige with beauty impossible to capture and impossible to keep beyond the few moments where sun and cloud and chance align and hypnotize whatever eyes happen upon it until darkness encroaches and all that remains is dark below and dark above and the wind blowing through sage and yucca and stone.
Headlights split this darkness and illuminated the Joshua trees on both sides of the wilted road, their twisting images like haunting dancers in the night. The driver tried recalling the colors of the sky. He always wanted to paint a sunset, to capture his interpretation of that kind of beauty, but he knew nothing could ever match what nature could create. Every few minutes he would reach over and adjust the wet paper towel wrapped around the base of a white rose sitting on the passenger seat. He checked the moisture. He would hold it when going over potholes to prevent it from falling to the floor, to protect it from bruises and dryness and danger. His attention was more on the rose than driving. Its importance weighed heavy on him. This evening weighed heavy on him. Tonight he is to speak his truth to the girl he loves more than life itself.
He was a dedicated person at heart, so when he discovered her existence he began changing everything in his life for her without ever realizing it. All he wanted was her happiness, her smiles, her laughter. He began shifting his life to what he thought would satisfy her. A new job, one that he was much less happy at but with far better pay. With that, an upgrade in housing and a new car in the driveway.
He would practically vibrate whenever she was near. Nervousness shook his hands and sweat his brow, but through it he spoke gently and affectionately. He knew love so true couldn’t be rushed. He had to win her, had to prove himself, and he was ready to spend his entire life doing just that. After all, he never imagined someone like her could even exist. He never knew how deep love could truly go. His mind incessantly wandered to her and his imagination burst with fantasies. Scenes played out in his head of picking her up and holding her in his arms, of growing together, of protecting her, of a life of happy sacrifice to give the girl of his dreams everything she could ever want or need. He could no longer imagine a life without her.
The evening clouds broke and exposed the glitter-speckled blackness above when he parked by the large iron fence. He gently grasped the rose and took in its sweet aroma, each pedal and thorn of utmost importance and beauty. Outside his car he paused to consider the greens and colors of the landscaping here, the grass and trees lovingly tended despite the desert’s harshness. The life here flourished, the result of someone who cares deeply for the living.
His heart beat loud in his ear, his hands began to shake but he calmed himself down—not for his sake, but in concern for the little white rose. A deep breath. This would take patience, and although night was upon him, there was nowhere else he’d rather be. The crunches of his boots on the gravel path were slow and deliberate. He approached where he knew she would be, taking a deep breath to try to ease his heavy heart. Slowly he read the words etched into the cold marble.
The lord called me from birth,
From my mother’s womb.
He gave me my name.
Budded on earth
To bloom in Heaven
“Hey, honey.” His whisper was gentle and affectionate. “I’m sorry I haven’t come as often lately, but you’ve always been on my mind.” His lips quivered. “I still think about you every day. I think about how happy you made me. How excited we were to have you in our lives.” He slowly spun the rose between his fingers and thumb in a fruitless effort to calm his nerves. “Happy birthday, honey. I know it isn’t much, but, well, I wasn’t sure the groundskeeper would appreciate a watermelon left on a headstone.” He chuckled lightly through the warmth soaking his cheeks. “Your mom always needed more watermelon when she was pregnant with you. We know it’s your favorite—” His voice cracked, sorrow consuming his calm. With effort he swallowed the lump in his throat. “Today your mom and I ate some in your memory. It was delicious, you would have loved it. Your mom, I wish you could see her face every time I put salt on my watermelon,” he choked through a half laugh, half sob. “She acts like I’m a criminal!”
He kneeled on the grass in front of the headstone and tenderly placed the rose on top of the etched marble.
“I wish you knew how much I love you. Your mom says you do, that you can hear us and feel it from heaven.” Every few seconds he would sniff and take a breath to gain his composure. “She says you’re loving us back, that she can feel it every time she thinks of you.” A long pause filled the air as he stared at the cold, smooth marble.
“I don’t have the heart to tell her I don’t believe that. Not anymore. What kind of God would rip an angel like you from our arms the moment we meet you? No, I don’t think you’re looking down at us. I don’t think anything. You’re just gone. But still, here I am, talking to you. Or to your grave, I guess. I don’t know.” Words began to blend with little sobs. “I just don’t know. I love you so much, honey. That’s all I need. I don’t need to believe you’re in the sky or whatever. All I know is that I love you. I always will.”
The starlight became lost in an invisible mass of black cloud. Wind blew over jagged peaks and across barren desert and through the graveyard and carried an echo of sobs through sage and yucca and stone.