Lillian closed the door as her son, all dressed in black, walked away. She set her keys on the hutch, too numb to hang them properly on the pegboard and stepped out of her heels. The kitchen counter was littered with flowers, unopened envelopes, and prepared meals she’d been gifted, things she needed to put away, but she walked blindly past them.
John’s oxygen machine still sat next to the bed, along with his slippers, poised as if waiting for his feet. Feet that would never wear them again. What was she going to do with them?
Lillian curled onto her side of the bed. The paper program still clutched in one hand was her lifeline, her window to the past, the last evidence of the reality she faced. Her fine black dress crinkled around her tucked knees, but she did nothing to fix it.
The program read: John Marlow Kasperson, beloved father and husband, born November 6, 1943, deceased March 17th, 2015.
This last week bruised by in a flurry of phone calls, decisions and paperwork: filing with insurance, purchasing a casket, reading a will, picking colors and types of flowers, arranging speakers and musical numbers, selecting pictures for a collage…
John Jr. had done his best to ease her burden, but in the end, he was six-hundred miles from home and running on empty. His wife and children desperately needed him and he was torn between home, work and his mother’s need. It was best he’d gone.
Now Lillian was on her own.
She clutched the paper tighter and closed her eyes.
The ringing doorbell woke her. Sunlight streamed into the room, so it must be mid-morning, but Lillian didn’t remember making the decision to fall asleep.
His side of the bed was empty.
Again. Like every morning.
Lillian wriggled out of bed and aimed for the mirror. Dark circles ringed her eyes and her hair lay flat on one side, sticking straight up on the other. She hadn’t been to the beautician in the three weeks since his death. She hadn’t been anywhere really since the funeral. The kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and back.
The doorbell rang again.
Maybe they’d go away.
Lillian felt less grimy after a shower, but she couldn’t stomach the toast she’d made. Instead, she sipped her coffee and stepped out to the front stoop. She almost tripped over the potted plant sitting in the middle of her porch. A bonsai tree. Its limbs drooped under skeletal branches, nettles or leaves almost bare and browning. A card had been slipped under one corner of the plant’s tray.
She hefted the thing off her porch and carried it to the kitchen table. It was the most pitiful plant she’d ever seen. The card that came with it said simply, Koshi has been a little neglected, but he’s a sweet tree. Here’s hoping he’ll bloom for you like he wouldn’t for me.
“Koshi?” Lillian repeated. Who named a plant? That was just silly, but the poor thing must be starved. She hurried away and got a cup of water. “At least you can have a good drink, but I’m no good to care for you,” Lillian confessed. “I’m all tired out and have nothing left to give. I’m ready to die and join my John. You’d be better off with someone else.”
Did she imagine it, or did the little plant’s limbs tremble as she poured the water? Her lips twitched like they might pull up in a smile. “There you go, little one.”
She glanced around the counter, at the mess surrounding Koshi. Surely no plant would like living in such a disaster zone. She should clean it up so Koshi had a clean place to dwell, at least until she could find a better home for it.
The kitchen looked better, and every time she passed through it, she spoke to little Koshi. It was beginning to perk up a little, but the room was so drab, she didn’t know how it could possibly thrive. She pulled back the curtains and let the sunlight in. She’d always loved those curtains. They added just the right shade of yellow to remind her of a summer’s day—like the day John proposed to her at
. That had been an
amazing day. Her heart warmed with the memory and she recalled how much she loved
that place. Heartford
“You know what, Koshi? I think I’m going to go for a walk.”
A week went by, but little Koshi still was struggling. One day Lillian believed he was recovering and his little limbs would sprout green chutes. The next he looked to be on the brink of death again.
She put on a decent blouse and pants, washed her face, did her hair, and went to the store. She stopped into a nursery and asked what kind of plant food she needed for a bonsai tree. The shop keeper directed her to a book about grooming and feeding bonsai trees and helped her discover Koshi’s breed: Chinese Elm. She thanked him, although she admitted she was only caring for the tree until she could find a new home for it.
Koshi liked his plant food. He responded well. She even discovered new buds springing the next week, but he wasn’t growing as well as she hoped. She took him out back to the fresh air, and the porch desperately needed cleaning after the winter. The grass needed mowing, the leaves needed to be raked, and weeds needed to be pulled from the flowerbed. Koshi must be overwhelmed by the disaster of a yard.
Lillian took him back inside, determined to do something about the disrepair.
Koshi’s regular visits outdoor had done wonders. His little limbs brimmed with greenery. The porch had been cleaned up, the yard maintained, and Lillian had enjoyed many days of fresh air and invigorating work through the project. She felt stronger than she had in years.
It made her think of Margaret, her elderly next door neighbor who had to move into a home a year ago. She’d loved Margaret’s cookies and friendship through the years. What had become of her friend? She decided an excursion was in order.
Margaret sat alone in a bed by a window. Despite the chipper yellow paint and white-lace curtains, her friend’s hair, always done up, now sagged, and her lips, always brimming with smiles, dipped toward depression. No hint of cookies or baking filled the room, no cards or signs of friendship. A collection of framed photos sat beside the aging woman, people she had loved and lost, people she loved and never saw, people who had become little more than a memory.
Lillian knew how her friend felt. More importantly, she knew what her friend needed. What she had needed.
Margaret’s head turned toward the door. Her eyes lit. “Is that my dear, old neighbor?”
Lillian forced a smile. Koshi had healed her heart so much and he could do the same for a lonely old woman in a care facility.
“Don’t hate me, Koshi.”
Lillian brought the little plant the very next day. Every week she visited Margaret—to check in on Koshi and help her friend prune the little guy. She met other residents of the home. Their loneliness weighed on her, but she knew how to ease it. Each month she selected a new “target,” and gifted them with a bonsai tree. By the end of the year, she held classes on taking care of their plant companion for all the residents who were able. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
She told Koshi what wonderful things were happening because of him, and for the millionth time, wondered where he had come from.
The day Margaret died, she delivered him to the newest resident, just as her friend had requested. He was the gift that kept giving.
That evening, she sat at home pondering over it all: loss after loss, the sting of death, the joy of giving, the renewal of a purpose. She remembered the first time Koshi’s limbs began to bend from the weight of his leaves. She begged him not to look as she pulled out the pruning sheers, promising, “This is going to hurt so much, but it will help you grow. Be strong, little one.”
She lifted the clippers and snip. His little limbs trembled like he was screaming and she’d hated every second of the task, but he grew stronger, he grew greener, and he’d brought so much joy because of that painful choice.
Lillian almost thought she heard a voice echoing the memory, saying, “Lillian, I know taking John away hurt so much, but you are learning and growing in ways you’d never have imagined. Be strong, little one. You have so much to give.”
Crystal Collier is an author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids, with the occasional touch of humor or inspiration. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her HERE.