When you love someone dearly, they never really leave you.
|Albert clenched his eyes tight and tried to let his imagination make things right.
There in the darkness of his mind, Aunt Helen stood at the Christmas tree, tying red ribbons with white stripes around wispy tips of white pine branches. She wore one of those same streamers in her chestnut hair and turned to greet him with a warm smile when he walked in from the cold alongside Daddy and Mommy.
He smiled now and opened his eyes, but the horror in the coffin remained as before.
Aunt Helen lay shriveled in a pea green cotton sack -- her dress. Her body was so small that Albert could trace the imperfect stitching as it disappeared into the dark bottom compartment of the coffin.
The undertaker’s makeup could not hide the putrid, cancer-wrought yellow skin and dark bruises on Helen’s formerly kind and beautiful face.
Jagged, patchy tufts of hair barely hid her bare scalp. Her perfect perky bangs and bob existed only in Albert’s mind, and they faded quickly into black.
Albert’s vision swam to white and he wiped his forehead. There was no sweat, only cold and clammy flesh. He imagined it looked like Helen’s.
Afraid he would pass out and topple into the casket, Albert hurried into the hallway near the bathrooms. He collapsed onto a bench and looked back into the viewing room, where Mommy and Daddy bent over Helen.
After a few deep breaths, Albert began to feel better, and the room clawed back into clear focus. The ceiling light above him flickered, and he cast his eyes upwards just in time to catch a glimpse of something moving through the air.
It was a ribbon, red with white stripes, floating toward his outstretched fingers as if guided by a gentle, loving hand.