After All Our Loved Ones Died

Time has caught me sleeping over sixty years, or so it seems. For I am an old woman now, my hair gray and brittle and the tips of my brows streaming to my cheeks as I remember tears once doing. I can barely lift my fingers to my lips, in need of touch, though it be my own. These lips once kissed, once bit out of self-doubt, now feel like chipping paint against an iron rail. They are not worth the struggle of my hand.

I am eighty-five today.

Eighty-five candles stand lit against my pupils, their flames strangely calm, unwavering. They seem to stand alone, suspended in air. There is no cake, only fire and wax.

"Happy Birthday." I hear a small voice say. The voice is not my own, though familiar. I have heard this voice before. Have I spoken? No, my lips have not moved. Have I gone mad?

I sense her body moving toward my own, the energy of one living body nearing another. And instantly, she has me. I am hers. I accept her without a struggle. She feeds me and bathes me and tells me stories of the world outside my window.

"The rose bush is in bloom," she says, "You know, the one we planted after all our loved ones died." She says it's beautiful, a deep red in petals and reaching past the trelace. I scarce know what she means. I cannot see the roses; therefore, I do not believe. Yet, I do believe in death. I feel its hurt and its pain so close to my heart, as if it's taken refuge within me. She wipes my cheek as if to smooth a tear, but her fingers remain dry.

"You have not cried in weeks," she states. "That is good." She smiles, and although she says she loves me, I do not fully trust her. Why am I so old? Why can I not recall my youth, yet recall what youth feels like with longing? This woman by my bedside holds it in her skin, so tight it cannot escape, so close that I can see it, feel it, breathe it in.

"What happened to the stars?" I ask. It is the first thing I have spoken in weeks. I have caught her off guard.

But then her face, though exhausted, brightens.

"They still exist," she smiles. She seems to find pleasure in my joy squandered. I look to the window or to where I think a window should be.

"Open the blinds," I offer, "I'd like to see them." Her teeth meet her lower lip and her eyes grow narrow. It is a look of panic I've only ever seen from the ghosts beyond my bedroom door.

"No. It's too early, I'm afraid. We'll wait until the sun goes down. Then we'll see the stars."

I must accept this for I can feel my skin settle into the creases of the bedsheets, how seamlessly they fit, like my body was made for them. And somehow I know that in our waiting, we wil miss the stars all together, that she'll let me sleep right through the evening, draped in sheets and the darkest blinds. She looks like me, this woman by my bedside, or how I imagine myself to look. I have not seen my face in years. But her skin is smooth, her face tight, and I know somehow that we are different.

I reach for her hand.

My breath gasps as I feel it beneath my own. I sense she has stopped breathing.

"Don't be afraid," I tell her as her knuckles moisten within my hold. Her eyes meet mine bloodshot, her lips quickly cracking like paint chipping on an iron rail, her face growing white and then blue as I swiftly suck the life from her bones. I know that if I leave my hand there, she will die. And maybe if she does--if I find the courage to kill...

I will see the world outside my window.

I will see the stars.

I will see the rose bush in full bloom--the one I planted after all my loved ones died.