The After Story

The beautiful cover art that accompanies it, was created by my amazingly talented daughter MileikaIvanaxx, and reproduced with her kind permission.

*****

So there is an after story, mused Sasha. She examined the card attached to the recently laid single orchid on the grave and lashed out with her boot, kicking the border. Immediately, she felt remorseful.

Every year on the anniversary of Mama’s death, Grandma and Aunt Lizzie took Sasha to Mama’s grave. Arriving at midday, they placed their bouquets of lilies at her headstone before walking to the nearby church where they prayed; the tradition had never altered over the ten years.

Today, atypically, Sasha had braved the change in weather, returning on foot, alone, to say a personal farewell. She knew it would be her last opportunity. By morning she’d be in a big city, in another state; the beloved farm, where she’d healed and lived since she was three, would be just another memory to haunt her.

The floral tribute hadn’t been there when they’d left. Someone had visited since. The mystery visitor knew Mama well enough to leave an orchid, not lilies. An orchid strategically placed where Mama’s heart would have beaten, were it still able to do so. The card read, “Always in my Heart.”

There’d always been talk about her ‘tragic death’ in the village. Whispers that silenced at Sasha’s approach, knowing looks from gossiping women and pitying glances from the teachers at school… What did they know that Sasha didn’t…? 

Earlier in the day at the graveyard, way out on the headland, it had been a windy but beautiful day. The sun had streamed through the trees, creating dancing shadows among the graves.

Now was the antithesis. Sasha felt a stab in her chest each time the sea crashed against the treacherous rocky crags below, imagining Mama’s car flying from the bridge and sinking into the dark water, with Mama trapped inside.

The church bell rang five times. Sasha thrust the card and orchid into her coat pocket as she turned to look at the church.

Constructed from dark stone in the fading light and at this angle, it looked like it had ascended from the sea. Huge and ancient, the color of wet bitumen with an oil spill spectrum of blues and violets, it stretched its spires to the heavens. Sasha felt a shiver of insignificance. 

Turning into the wind to face the long walk home, she recalled fragmented memories of Mama’s funeral. Daddy had held her hand, and she’d thrown a single orchid from Mama’s garden onto the coffin before her handful of earth.

Her last memory of Mama alive was through the glass of the car window. Sasha had held her hand to the glass and Mama had placed hers against Sasha’s tiny palm on the other side. 

“Be good for Aunt Lizzie.”

Daddy was a shadow without Mama. A neighbor found Sasha hungry and alone in their house. That’s when Grandma took charge and Sasha was brought to the farm. 

Daddy moved interstate to a big city, and visited once a year, Sasha’s birthday.

Sasha looked back when she reached the crossroads. The spot marked the last point where the graveyard was visible. The bell rang through the air once, marking the quarter hour.

She’d miss this world. The landscape that made tourists flock in every season – wild, windswept, a precarious peninsula of land that appeared to be suspended above the ocean. And she’d miss Mama. Blowing a kiss as Mama had done long before, Sasha wiped her eyes with a sodden tissue and turned onto the single-track lane that would lead home. 

“Goodbye Mama.”

She’d dreamed of Mama again last night. Mama, trapped in the car; and when Sasha had tried to break the window to set her free, she’d failed. Again. Mama was forever imprisoned in a glass cage. 

As she turned at the sign that said Moncliffe Farm and set foot on the drive made entirely of sea pebbles, the first lightning struck. Sasha ran, her heart pounding inside her birdcage chest.

Only when she reached the curve of the drive did the house reveal itself. An eclectic build of stone and log, it had grown over the centuries but somehow retained its serenity, accepting change and loss with growth. Sasha wished she could accept change and loss as she grew.

Smoke curled from the chimney – Grandma was awake. Damn. Sasha had stayed too long at the grave. A second bolt of lightning that seemed to emanate from the moon answered her unspoken question as it illuminated the sky. Mama was waiting.

Without stopping in the kitchen, she raced up the stairs, jumping over the one that creaked, and tiptoed down the hall to her bedroom. It had once been Mama’s and despite Grandma’s offers to change it, Sasha had resisted. No more changes please. Grandma had listened, for she understood loss.

Throwing her coat over the battered leather case she’d packed for her move, Sasha edged to the dressing table. 

She saw her reflection in the foxed mirror. Dark curls over an embryonic version of the face that smiled at her from the photo that lived beneath the mirror – Mama on her wedding day. It’s broken frame, although still beautiful, needed to be supported by Mama’s old trinket box. Opening the box, Sasha selected the filigree heart locket from the jumbled contents. Pulling the chain over her head, she positioned the heart above her own. It felt icy against her warm skin, and she could feel her own heart thump beneath it. 

This was the only time the magic happened. The stormy nights when Mama came back to her from her prison in the mirror. 

What if she didn’t come tonight? 

What if she’d missed her? 

Sasha needed answers, now more than ever.

“Mama?” Her voice rose in panic. 

This was her last chance; tonight she was leaving to live with Daddy in the city and start high school.

As the lightning struck again, she watched her features morph into those of Mama. Smiling, they simultaneously reached out and touched their palms against the mirror. 

“I knew you’d return… by yourself… to say goodbye.”

Sasha gasped. “The orchid…?”

“For you.”

“Oh… Mama… I thought someone else…”

“Everyone does. It was my only way out. I was already living on borrowed time… my fight was over.”

Mama’s smile caressed her through the impossible connection of the mirror. Sasha finally understood.

Grandma’s clock chimed the three-quarter hour. Time was running out.

“Mama, I… I …”

Mama nodded.

“I leave tonight, to live in a city, for high school…” Sasha choked on her tears.

“I’ve always known this day would come.”

Tears spilled from Mama’s eyes, leaving tracks on her porcelain cheeks. Sasha reached out to wipe them.

“I wish you could come too, Mama.” 

Mama smiled, a sad smile that silently voiced a thousand hopes and dreams. 

“May I also live in your heart forever.”

Blowing Sasha a kiss, she placed her hand on the glass once more. Sasha met it with her moist palm. Mama’s gaze traced the mirror’s outline. 

Trapped. Forever imprisoned in a glass cage. Break it and let her out… DO IT! an inner voice screamed.

Another voice hissed at her, what makes this different to the car… you’ll just have a broken mirror as well as a broken heart…

As Sasha wavered, the clock chimed six. A muffled crunch of tires on the drive entrance leading up from the road indicated she had only seconds till her time with Mama ran out…

Instantly Sasha knew what she must do. But it had to be while Mama was still in the mirror.

Her eyes skimmed the room. It was like a living museum with its eclectic collection of antiques, and the hoardings of two different teenagers, two decades apart. She spotted an old, heavy candlestick. As she struggled to raise it above her head, Sasha met Mama’s eyes one last time.

Mama nodded. Sasha’s tears clouded her vision. This time was for real. She must break the mirror… she had to… there would be no second chance…

She struck. Lightning illuminated the room as the mirror shattered. Mama’s image splintered and flew in every direction.

As the foxed shards cascaded around her, Sasha felt enveloped in warmth she hadn’t known since she was three.

“Mama…”

Lightning flashed again. 

A flame flickered in the locket, sending a glow through its filigree shell. It burned against her skin. 

A squeal of brakes and a final crunch on the gravel drive…

“Sasha, Daddy’s here.” Grandma’s voice floated up the stairs. 

Family reunion, thought Sasha.

She changed into the fresh clothes Grandma had left on the bed and slipped Mama’s photo into her coat pocket, with the orchid and card. Evading the fragments of glass glittering on the floor, she carried her case to the landing. She hid the locket under her shirt as she locked the door behind her with its unique ornate key, sliding it inside her boot. 

“Coming Grandma.” 

No-one would venture into that room again, not in this lifetime anyway.

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