12 April 2015 - ROSE RED - A short story by Vera Rothwell


- A short story 
Vera Rothwell -

G'day folks,

Today, I offer you a wonderful short story. It was written by one of my biggest supporters who is attending a writer's group here in Australia. Vera is a great admirer of my 'Gunnedah Series' of books. I reckon her story is great.

The smell of the red roses that her mother loved was almost overpowering.  The church was full of them, sent or brought by the many people who loved and respected her mother.  Who owed her!

Sherilyn wondered if anyone had actually passed out through being overcome by roses.  Personally she preferred a perfect white rose, but her mother had always surrounded herself with the red.  It was “her” flower.

It was hard to concentrate on what was being said.  She hadn’t come to terms with her mother’s death, didn’t know where to start to do so.  She felt grief, yes of course she did; but she also felt resentment, a resentment that had been with her most of her life.

She thought back to the years when her mother, father and she had been a happy family.  Her mother and father had loved each other and both had adored her.  She had always felt happy and loved, with her parents guiding her through her early years.  It all went horribly wrong when her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was only seven.

Her father had left them well provided for, so money was not a problem.  Her mother had no need to go and find a job where Sherilyn would have been left to her own devices after school, no, she could stay home and life could go on almost like before.  Almost.  But it didn’t.

Because she was only seven years old at the time, Sherilyn could not comprehend the enormous hole left in her mother’s life.  When Sherilyn was at school during the day, her mother needed to find something to do with her time, or she thought she would go crazy with grief and loss.  So she started out helping at the local women’s refuge.  From there she added abused children, then homeless people then more and more causes to fill the days.  Then all these good works started to spill over into what Sherilyn considered “their” time.  

“I’ll be late home today darling; your dinner will be in the fridge.  Don’t wait up for me” became a familiar phrase.  There were fetes, cake stalls, fundraising dinners, quiz nights – Sherilyn lost count of the number of good causes that her mother supported.

Of course everyone else thought her mother was a saint.  She could never say “no” if someone asked her to help out.  

“What about me?” Sherilyn would think, as once more she reheated her dinner in the microwave.  She would have loved her mother to be home more and listen to her problems, or ask about her day, as they chatted over dinner.

The church was full – people were standing at the back as every pew was filled.  All of the people that her mother had helped and touched in some way had come to pay their respects.  There was so many, Sherilyn thought helplessly.  “All these people had a piece of my mother’s life that I didn’t” she thought.  “They probably knew her better than I did in the end”.

The service seemed interminable.  Sherilyn hardly heard the words being spoken.  She had opted not to give her own tribute, instead having the minister read her words for her.  She had spent hours trying to find the right words to express her feelings about her mother and her sense of loss, but in the end had settled for the usual trite phrases about grief and leaving a hole in her life.  It seemed inadequate to express the void that opened before her, but it would have to do.

Finally the service was over, and, as her mother had wanted to be buried next to her husband, the congregation continued on to the local cemetery.  Sherilyn had never been spooked by the cemetery like some of her friends, because her father was there she thought of it as a peaceful place to rest for eternity.  The day was fine and sunny, which in itself seemed wrong – surely dull skies and rain were more suited to such an occasion.  That the birds sang and the flowers added an incongruous touch of gaiety, only added to the sense of unreality which Sherilyn felt.

That shield of unreality was finally torn away from her as her mother’s coffin was lowered into the grave and she was invited to throw a red rose down to rest on the coffin.  Sherilyn looked down at her mother’s coffin and was overwhelmed by the finality of it all. 

 “Mum” she thought, “I need you so much, I always have, why aren’t you here for me?” Her mother’s voice sounded in her head “Sherilyn, you know I had to go, you father needed me too, and it was time”. 

Sherilyn had no idea how she got through the rest of the endless day.  After the graveside service, afternoon tea was served at her mother’s house.  The long French windows were open, allowing the pleasant breeze to waft inside carrying the smell of her mother’s precious red roses.  Sherilyn remembered asking her mother why she didn’t plant some other flowers.
“But darling” her mother had replied, “roses are the queen of all flowers, don’t you agree?”  Sherilyn had then argued about perhaps planting other colours of rose, such as her own favourite, the white.  “They don’t have the same smell as the red ones” her mother said, and that was that.

Finally the last good-bye was said, the last awkward hug exchanged, and Sherilyn collapsed onto her favourite lounge chair, waiting for the catering staff she had engaged for the afternoon to finish cleaning up and leave.  At last they too were gone and Sherilyn was alone for the first time – really alone, she thought. 

“I’m an orphan” she thought to herself in some surprise.  “Orphan conjures up the thought of Oliver Twist, not a twenty eight year old woman, but orphan I am”.

She wandered out into the garden, trying to find some place where she could quiet her mind, but the red roses only made it worse.  She went back inside and looked at the clock – nearly six.  She didn’t feel like dinner, although she had hardly touched any of the afternoon tea.  She poured herself a glass of chilled white wine and stared into the glass.

“What happens next?” she said aloud.  She sank down again into the lounge chair and sipped at her wine.  Suddenly the grief struck her and the tears started rolling down her face. “Oh Mum, Mum, I need you so much” she said, “Why aren’t you here for me?” she repeated her thought from the graveside.  Once again she could swear she heard her mother’s voice in her head. “Darling, I’ll always be here for you”.

Numbly Sherilyn wondered if she was going mad, hearing her mother’s voice in her head.  How could she be “here for her” when she had just seen her lowered into her grave?  She decided to go upstairs and try to get some sleep, which had been avoiding her over the previous few days.  She walked into her bedroom and stopped dead in her tracks.

There, lying on her crisp linen pillowcase, was one perfect white rose.

Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Vera. Great build up and fantastic finish. If you were in my class, I'd smile at you and say three words I've become famous for, "Love ya work!"

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