“But that’s a secret, a secret we know and you can’t tell. Forever. Promise?"
BEST WROTE INSPIRING STORY in the CHRISTMAS CONTEST by TinaMarie , December 5, 2012
FEATURED in The Writing.Com Newsletter: Spiritual: Holiday Giving - Making a Difference - Editor's Picks, by Sophurky , December 12, 2012
Best Short Story NOMINEE in the 6th. Annual Quill Awards by Andrew , January/February 2013
FEATURED in the WDC Newsletter: Short Stories: Gimme Five - Editor's Picks, by Shannon , December 34, 2013
Doris’ living room window overlooked a small and quaint cemetery, which was right across from her yellow house. Surrounded by Long leaf Pines, Eastern Redbuds, White Dogwoods, and Willow Oak trees, it didn’t even look like a cemetery but a somehow neglected garden in the middle of Springfield Woods.
Over the years, Doris would often go for short walks there. She wondered what the cemetery’s name was, even asked some neighbors, yet no one knew. She loved the smell of moss and leaves, the fresh mowed grass in the air that sometimes came from nearby homes in the summer season, and to look at the tree roots knocking over some of the white and gray granite tombstones in the winter. She would stop and read the weather-worn inscriptions, symbols and epitaphs, and try to imagine the lives, memories, and faces behind the names, and watch as the shiny crosses reflected the sunlight in the afternoon; changing in color, from silver to golden or copper --- marveling at how a tombstone could talk to the living.
One of her favorite grave sites read: John Mac Joseph – Gone But Not Forgotten. Every time she read those words, she’d wonder what her two daughters would write under her name, after she passed away because for some reason, they just never had been close. Wistfully, she rarely saw people standing or praying or crying in front of a grave site. In the last two years she had noticed a new visitor that always came during Christmas time. And, there she was again, standing quietly by a tomb, under the old Willow Oak tree.
Doris went to her bedroom, put on her suede jacket and purple scarf with matching woolen gloves and walked to the front door. The moment she opened it, the cold air kissed her face. Her eyes became wet, her nose cold and she blinked twice before closing the door behind her. She smiled, sighed deeply and took a deep breath. White was covering her yard; tiny flakes coming down from the sky and covering the yellow and brown leaves, and earth. Wet snowflakes touched her cheeks while a crisp, cool breeze whistled in the air. The branches on the trees moved as the wind murmured through them, swaying to and fro. She loved the wintry weather but what she loved the most was to walk on the white snow and listen to the crunchy, squeaky sounds it produced under her boots. Days like this made her feel sentimental. She remembered playing in the snow as a child, and making her first snowman with her father but that was many, many years ago.
Doris crossed the road and walked through the rusty iron gates, and headed towards where she last saw the visitor from her window. She stepped on a small branch; it snapped. Doris looked at the visitor, a girl, who turned back, surprised to see who was coming. The moment their eyes met Doris felt something odd but she couldn’t identify what it was. Had she scared her? Did she know the girl? It was a feeling of knowing … but where from? What time … does to you; she hated becoming older every year. If only we could go back in time – or simply stop time altogether.
“How are you, little girl?” Doris asked. “Isn’t it a spectacular day?”
“Oh yes it is!” A lost sun ray touched the girl’s face, illuminating her light, brown eyes. She covered them with her hands, and smiled but immediately reached out and tried to catch a little snowflake with her right hand.
“What is your name?”
“What a lovely name! Are you Jewish?”
“Well, it means 'My God is a Vow' in Hebrew, sweetheart.”
“Oh. What’s your name?”
“What does it mean?”
“It’s Greek. It means 'Daughter of the powerful sea God, Oceanus'.”
“Can you swim?”
“Yes, I can but not very well.”
“I can too but not very well.”
“Do you live around here, Elsie?”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes, over there. See that yellow house across from the cemetery?”
“Oh yes, I know that house. I love that house. Sometimes I see you inside the kitchen. I saw you make a Christmas cake once; I wanted a piece.”
“Did you? When?”
“Some years ago.”
“Some years ago?" Doris asked, puzzled.
“How old are you, child?”
“Where are your parents?”
“Oh, they are with angels in Heaven.”
“Oh my darling girl. I’m so sorry. Are you visiting them, here?”
“No. They are not ... here.”
“Why are you here then? Who are you visiting?”
“I’m visiting that grave, over there --- see? That one – the one without flowers.”
“Let’s go there. I want to see which one you’re talking about. Here, hold my hand, child.”
It was then that Doris noticed what was wrong. Elsie was wearing a long-sleeved, flowery cotton dress, white socks and black shoes. She wasn’t wearing a jacket or a parka, gloves, boots or even a scarf like children would, at this time of year. Doris heart danced like one of the snowflakes, floating in the wind, troubled, not knowing where to go. She held Elsie’s hand, tight. It was small, and cold. She stopped, looked at Elsie and observed the girl’s blond hair, falling on her shoulders and a lovely pink ribbon, tied around her little head, neatly. If she could she would pick her up in her arms and take her home, comfort her, feed her, love her but she wasn’t hers and never would be, not in this lifetime.
“Here, right here. This one. See? E-l-s-i-e. That’s my name. Elsie. That’s me. Elsie! See?”
“Oh Elsie. It’s that you? I often wondered why it didn’t have a last name written on the grave.” Doris heart missed a beat; emotion took over her. She looked up at the sky; tiny, cold snowflakes on her cheeks. Have I been talking to an apparition?
“Yes. I’m there. It’s me down there.”
“Oh my poor, poor darling. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m happy now but --- not so happy.”
“Why, sweetheart? Do tell me.”
“You see … I visit myself.”
“What? Oh, Oh my darling --- why?”
“Because nobody visits me. Nobody comes to see me or bring me flowers, especially on Christmas, and I love Christmas!”
“Darling sweet girl.” Tears rolled down Doris cheeks like little shiny rivers on dry earth. “What’s your favorite flower?”
“Daisies. Yes, daisies but the pink ones!”
“Tell you what. I promise to bring you a vase with pink daisies, every Christmas, even if I have to grow them myself, come hell or high water!”
“You will? Really? You’ll do that? Promise?” Doris saw little drops on Elsie’s eyes, forming multicolored sparkling tears, which ran down her pink cheeks. “Promise? Cross your heart and hope to die?”
“Cross my heart, hope to die; stick a needle in my eye! I promise, pumpkin, but on one condition!”
Elsie was jumping up and down, clapping her hands; skipping. Her flowery dress, more beautiful than ever, seemed as if the colors had become brighter; colors unseen on earth. She hugged Doris’ around her waist, resting her little head on Doris’ stomach. Doris caressed her soft hair but her hand, somehow, went right through Elsie’s head, surprising and amazing her that both spiritual and earthly worlds were part of a mysterious wisdom.
“What’s the condition? What’s the condition?” She asked while happily dancing around Doris.
“That you won’t visit --- your grave anymore. Besides, it’s too cold for you to come here, wearing those clothes, and shoes, you know, during winter. You could catch a nasty cold and I wouldn’t like that.”
“But … “
“No buts. That’s my condition. I promise to come every Christmas, and bring you pink daisies. I’ll plant them right there, see? There. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes! But …”
“No buts. “
“But … I will still be able to see you … and my grave … from where I am --- up there, you know, there.” Elsie said while pointing at the grayish clouds. “But that’s a secret, a secret we know and you can’t tell. Forever. Promise?”
“A secret’s a secret. My word is forever. I will tell no one, but only if you don’t come here anymore. You surely have other things to do, other places to travel to, and other things to learn, I bet you do, right my darling?"
“How do you know that?”
“At my age, I guess I kind of know ‘things,’ my little Christmas angel.”
“Christmas angel, me?”
“Yes. You are my Christmas angel. Now, do we have a deal?"
“Yes. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome, my darling.”
Doris looked up at the clouds. It had stopped snowing and patches of blue were painting themselves on the sky. She took a long breath and filled her lungs with the cool air. When she looked again, little Elsie was gone. She had vanished in thin air but Doris swore she felt a warm kiss on her right hand, and an innermost feeling of love, which had enveloped her tired heart. She had to reach out and hold Elsie’s tombstone in order not to fall; emotion taking over her soul.
Every Christmas, Doris’ planted pink daisies around Elsie’s grave but the most amazing thing was that the daisies from the previous years never died --- but flourished, and blossomed, even when it snowed.
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