Susan inched her way up the small trail that served as a sidewalk to her porch. She stopped when she got to the bottom step and looked at the house. It had become increasingly clear over the past year that there was more wood showing on the siding than paint—a reflection of her own, withered frame. She sighed and heaved herself up each step and finally into the house.
The inside wasn’t much better. Cracks had traveled across the ceiling from the northern wall and the wallpaper was peeling in multiple, unreachable places; not that Susan could have replaced them if she had wanted. The floors, to her pleasant surprise, held strong and even and allowed her to easily traverse the house without worrying about her hip giving out.
The house had seen better times, she thought. But it had also seen much worse.
She shuddered and walked to the stairway. It was always an arduous task climbing the stairs to her bedroom and what made it harder was the memory that it had not always been so. It was a constant reminder that her body was failing. But she always found a way into her bed and tonight would be no different.
At the top of the stairs she stopped, took deep breaths, and looked at the wall in the hallway. The pictures of her and John had long been replaced by those of Maggie. It was like a photographic timeline displaying the evolution of her daughter. The early years showed a young girl with dark, red hair that became a tad lighter as she got older. Maggie’s hair color had eventually settled into that of a dark carrot.
Susan came to the last picture before her bedroom and put her hand on Maggie’s face.
“Oh, Rosalind,” she said. “I couldn’t tell her. I’m sorry. I was just trying to protect her from all that. I had to protect her.”
And she had. It was no secret in the town of Whispering Pines what had happened in 1960 and her husband’s specific role in those events, but as Maggie reached an age where she might have understood it, the legend died away like an old vine that had reached the top of a brick wall. That was fine by Susan.
Susan grabbed the picture off the hook and took it into her bedroom. A sharp pain struck her chest, but she didn’t fall to the ground or double over; she pushed the picture against it and waited for it to subside.
When it was gone, she reached into the nightstand drawer and came out with a black sharpie. She put the picture on the bed and set the sharpie on the glass, then crawled under the covers, forcing back yet another stab of pain to her chest.
It’s almost time, she thought.
She had welcomed this day for a long time. When Maggie had gotten married, her dreams had come true. She had married a successful businessman and they had carved out quite a nice life. He was a normal, loving husband. Susan was leery of him at first, but after the Sarah had been born and she saw what a vibrant, well-adjusted youngster she was, she knew that he was the goods.
After all, she knew what to look for.
But she hadn’t talked to Maggie since 2004.
Six years, she thought. Six years since Sarah…
She pushed the memory away and grabbed the picture and sharpie. Another pain hit her harder this time. She slammed herself against the headboard and grabbed her chest. It wouldn’t be much longer now. She had to do this. She had done good by Maggie. And in the beginning, she thought she had done good by Rosalind. She wanted so badly to talk to Rosalind—tell her how wonderful her daughter was and that she looked just like her. But she couldn’t. Rosalind was dead. But she could tell Maggie—tell her the truth about who her mother really was. She wouldn’t be here to have to deal with the aftermath anyway. She couldn’t call her, but she could leave her a note. No, a clue. There was still some part of her that didn’t want her to find out, but she figured that if there was indeed an afterlife and a judgment, a minimal effort to set things right would be more appreciated than nothing at all. She was sure of it.
She grabbed her chest as another pain seized her. It was a quick one this time.
Better make this quick, she thought.
She grabbed the sharpie and uncapped it with her mouth. At the bottom of the picture she began to scribble the name Rosalind. When she finished, she flipped the picture over and wrote something else. Just two words: cigar box.
The pen fell from her hand onto the musky, white linen sheets and began to bleed. Another bolt of pain grabbed her chest, but this time it didn’t let go. The room began to fade into a darkness. She breathed harder and harder and tried her best to maintain focus; to participate in the transition from this world to the next.
She had dreamed of this moment many times in recent years. One time she imagined that there would be a bright light that welcomed her—beckoned her—to come into its warm embrace. Another time she imagined that it was like a used car lot, and that God himself was just a salesman saying, “Hey there! Glad you could come on down, have I got a sale for you!” One time, when she thought about Rosalind, she imagined it was her own mother welcoming her into her arms and taking away the wounds that life had burned into her soul. But mostly, it was the warm light that welcomed her to her final destination.
The room was completely black, but she could still feel herself breathing. She waited for the light to burst through the darkness and carry her away. Her breathing, no matter how hard she tried to inhale and exhale, became something of a chore.
After a few minutes(was it minutes? she couldn’t tell anymore), she could feel herself breathing no more. She panicked when her instinct to breathe was met with no reflexive action by her body to obey. The darkness swarmed around her and her body grew numb. No light awaited her. No salesman would greet her. Her awareness dimmed against the tide of nothingness that washed over her and she slipped into the black sea of death.