We are coursing through the clouds, headed back west, back towards the night.
My heart is thudding in my chest. The Petit-Maitre has completely worn off and my horror has set back in, squeezing my lungs and chilling me to the bone.
The overwhelming sharpness of my senses has returned, but all I can see are her wine-red curls mixing with my ashy brown waves against an ink-black sky. The only sound is the whistle of the wind, the only scent my own.
“Take me home, Courtney.” I say timidly.
“Not yet.” She holds me tighter to her, pinching my arm. Her voice is a tight utterance through her clenched jaws.
She’s angry with me.
After she referred to children as “darling bloodbags”, I’m more than ready to be out of her presence.
“Why are you doing this?” I try to look her in the eyes, but she’s focused on the horizon ahead.
“I told you on that goddamn soccer field, Anne. You deserve this. You will love it.” She sighs, her anger slipping into apparent exhaustion with the silly human that I am.
“I don’t believe that.”
“You’re so damn stupid!” She shouts at me, finally turning her head to me, and bears her fangs.
“Take me home.” I repeat, firmly this time. As terrified as I am, I refuse to look away. Vampiric moodswings or not.
“I know just where to take you…” She turns her attention back to the sky ahead, and we gain speed.
So much time passes with us locked in that intimate soaring embrace, I am almost tempted to broach the topic of home again when we descend.
It’s stifling, warm and sticky, even though the sun has barely risen. I can tell by No Entry After Dark sign on the gate that we’re back in America. The fence is ancient wrought-iron with ornate stone columns and a grand stone arch. On the far side of it grows gothic oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The air itself smells green.
I’ve been here before, on a road trip with Tony when I was pregnant with the twins.
“You’ve taken me to Georgia?”
“More precisely, a cemetery in Savannah…” She purrs, mightily proud of her choice.
“Because?” I start walking down the gravelly path strewn with crunchy, fragrant leaves.
“I believe a funeral is about to start.” She almost giggles, and flicks her head towards the fence.
She’s right. Through the archway, I see a long procession of vehicles led by a gun-metal gray hearse.
She and I move, unobserved, to the shadow of one of those great oaks. We watch as the family gathers around the canopied grave, as the pallbearers carry the ornate mahogany casket to its place, as the funeral director places the heart composed of white roses next to the coffin. The heart is draped with one word, “MOM”.
I watch, for the second time on this adventure, moved to tears.
The priest says the final blessing, “O God, by whose mercy the souls of the faithful find rest; mercifully grant forgiveness of their sins to Thy servants and handmaids, and to all here and elsewhere who rest in Christ: that being freed from all sins, they may rejoice with Thee for evermore. Through the same our Lord.”
The mourners sniffle and sob and wipe their eyes with crumpled tissues in clenched fists.
The funeral director steps forward, murmuring words of comfort, and invitation to the wake at the home of the deceased.
A young man is the first to step towards the coffin. Somehow I know he must be the dead woman’s son. Shoulders trembling for only a moment, he shakes himself just once, a quick shiver of resolve. Steadily he places a single white rose on the gleaming wood of the casket, just beginning to glow in the morning sun. He pauses only briefly, and I can see his lips moving. He is saying goodbye.
I watch him ignore the pitying smiles, brush away the comforting pats on his arms, and make his way back to the limo. I watch as he rolls the limo window down and stares back towards the canopy, unblinkingly, not wanting to waste a second’s view of his mother’s eternal resting place.
“Is this what you really want, Annie? To put your children through this?” Courtney whispers and takes my hand.
“Huh?” I brush a single tear off my cheek, and finally look away from the boy.
“Do you want to hurt them like he’s hurting?”
I think about her meaning for a moment. Briefly contemplate the bizarre idea of never growing old. I picture myself as I am, walking down the boardwalk with my girls. They are bent over with age, using canes, heads of whispy white. I also consider that perhaps I could do for them what Courtney is offering for me. Could I? Should I?
I start to walk away from her then, although she follows silently behind.
I pass headstones plain, headstones ornate. Angel statues, crosses, doves. I read all the names, the dates. Some of these graves have been here for centuries. So many lifetimes. So much history.
Then another question, another quandary percolates in my brain.
“Do you have a grave, Courtney?”
“Huh?” It was her turn to be confused.
“A place your parents can visit, your cousins, Evan?”
“You know I have a grave.” She answers curtly, and not really acknowledging my real question.
“I don’t mean some hole in the Earth where you lay dead.” I turn on my heels to face her. “Do you have a memorial place? In a hundred years will there be a place that proves you were born, you lived, you died?”
“Didn’t think so.”
“Annie, what the hell?” She’s getting frustrated, she knows I’ve made up my mind, and she doesn’t like the answer.
“Courtney, take me home?”
“What for? So you can grow old and weak? So you can die and moulder in some box for eternity?”
It was my turn to chuckle.
“You say I’ve learned nothing tonight, but I have. Have you? Have you been paying attention, at all?”
“Enlighten me.” She snarks, and perches atop a large tombstone.
“I am gloriously alive.”
“Yeah. For now. Go on.”
“You don’t get it, ” I walk over to her, and take her hands in mine. “I have all those memories of my twenties, going dancing with my girlfriends, flirting with strangers, kissing boys. The angst, the thrill, the buzz, the chase. I did that. I’m done.”
“Whatever.” She whispers and goes to move away, but I squeeze her hands tighter, wish her to look at me.
“I am in love with my husband, with our family. As mundane as the daily grind can be, nothing can replace the ecstasy of seeing my little girls light up the world. No prima ballerina is more captivating.”
I see pink blood-tinged tears clouding those cobalt blue eyes, threatening to spill down her porcelain cheeks.
“I want to grow old and wrinkly and soft. I want to have a plush lap for my grandbabies to crawl into. I want to sing them lullabies and laugh when they ask me why I have age spots.”
“But…” She hops off the stone.
“No, Courtney. I want a long life, I want all the ups and downs, the aches and pains, the joy and sorrow. I want there to literally be a marker that says, ‘Anne Lived. Anne Died.’ I want the full package deal.”
“Are you certain?” She puts her hands on my shoulders and searches my face.
“I am. I deserve it. I will love it.”
She charges at me in a flash, knocking the wind out of me, swooping me up to the sky.
I wake to the usual sounds.
Tony snoring softly beside me. Elise and June giggling quietly in their bedroom across the hall.
I roll over and reach on my nightstand for my cell phone. I check the time. 8:26.
Wait. How did I get back home? What day is it?
I check my cell again. Saturday.
My shaky hand reaches to my neck, my quivering fingers brush the smooth warm skin there.
I sneak out of the covers, careful not to jostle Tony.
I run to the bathroom, flick the light switch. Just the normal dull glow of the lights, just the usual whispering whirr of the fan.
“Mooooommy!!!” June bellows from her bed.
Peeking my head in their room, I whisper, “Yeah, baby?”
“Can we have waffles?”
I smile and bound over to her bed in one big step and swoop her up in my arms. Elise bounces over and joins us on the bed. I kiss them both on their sweet little heads.
We tiptoe downstairs for the day, and walk past my desk. I am so relieved that it was all a dream that I almost don’t see it.
The single white rose. A single drop of crimson on one perfect petal.