There's a season for everything-even death.
NOTE-This short story won second place in Jessiebelle's Sailing into Jessie's Port contest. The titles of the works I used from her portfolio are listed at the bottom.
THE SEASONS OF LIFE
Mother and daughter sat across from each other in a booth at Brighton’s Bar and Grill. The grill was dimly lit by glass lamps advertising wines. The floor was red-and-white checked, giving it the appearance of a picnic blanket, and a very worn one at that. The booths were just as worn, rips and tears in the red upholstery hinting neglect. The paint on the walls was peeling, and dirt and grime lined cracks in the floor.
It was a shame, the mother thought, that the place had fallen into such disrepair. It hadn’t always been like that. When she and her husband had first opened the Bar & Grill, it was voted the number one place in Brighton to dine. Now, except for a few loners, the restaurant was empty.
Kate hadn’t meant for it to fall apart after her husband died. Out of grief it had been abandoned. Everything about the place reminded Kate of her deceased husband. And now her only daughter had been diagnosed with AIDS. This was an unfair result of a blood transfusion in 1987, which had then kept her beautiful daughter Bianca alive.
“It’s not fair,” she muttered through gritted teeth.
Bianca looked up at her mother, sadness filling her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she said quietly.
Kate shook her head. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s me that should be sorry. If it wasn’t for that perverse cat, it would have never been discovered.”
A few months earlier, Bianca had a serious asthma attack because of a stray cat, and her mother had taken her to the hospital. There her doctor had decided to give her a routine check-up. She called Kate a few days later, concerned with the results. An area of the test showed Bianca to be HIV positive. The doctor suspected it was related to the blood transfusion Bianca had received. The doctors had confirmed just yesterday that she had, indeed, contracted the HIV virus, which left undiscovered and untreated, had developed into AIDS.
“I mean, honestly,” Kate said, “shouldn’t we have known? What signs were there that this was coming? Why didn’t you tell me that you were feeling bad?”
“Mom, I wasn’t,” Bianca insisted. “Not all the time, anyway. And when I did feel bad, I just thought it was normal. I mean, everyone gets sick.”
“But when you had the flu-” her mother continued, “-it lasted for almost two weeks. You got a flu shot; I should have known something was wrong when you didn’t get better. I should have known something was wrong when you came down with the flu in the first place. I knew AIDS weakened your immune system, and that you shouldn’t have been sick that long.”
“Please, Mom, let’s not talk about it,” Bianca pleaded. Kate just shook her head, lost in her own state of hysteria. “I’m going to go to the park,” Bianca said softly. She slipped out of the booth, shrugged into her jean jacket, and left quietly.
“Go on, honey,” Kate replied, giving the okay for Bianca to go about five minutes after she had already left. Kate had been hiding the fear of Bianca being tested positive for HIV and then AIDS for almost three months. She should have been prepared for this. But she wasn’t. What if they were wrong? After all, even doctors made mistakes.
She was afraid. What would people think of Bianca now? Would they be scared of her, as Kate inwardly was? Would they make fun of Bianca and tease her until she couldn’t take anymore? Kate knew hardly anything about AIDS. Would Bianca be able to go on with her everyday life? How much time did she have left? At just thinking this Kate burst into tears, sobbing loudly and hiccuping occasionally.
After a good half-hour of crying, she dried her eyes and lifted her head. However, thoughts of Bianca and her future would not leave. They haunted her, as the ghost in a scary movie would do even a month after you’d watched it. She stared at a photo of her family from some six years ago, hanging on the wall. She and her husband had their arms wrapped around each other. In between was an eight year-old Bianca, cradling a baby puppy, the 4th member of their family, in her arms. Her husband was gone, as was the puppy. Bruno had been killed by a car. Next would be Bianca.
“It’s not fair,” Kate whimpered, aware that she sounded like a whiny six year-old. But she didn’t care. Soon she would be the only one out of a family of four. She wrapped her arms around herself, longing for four again. As the realization of everything set in, she began crying again. However, this time her tears were silent and controlled. An image of life without Bianca flashed through her mind, and she whispered, "God, please hear my prayers."
Bianca knew how hard this had hit her mother, but she was relying on Kate to be strong for her. Bianca felt like Kate was looking to her for reassurance. Sure, it wasn’t fair, but there was nothing Bianca –or anybody- could do. Bianca had been up all night last night, looking for information on AIDS. Three a.m. and I am lost, she remembered thinking. Lost among all of the frightening but real information about AIDS.
She knew it was possible that she’d contracted the HIV virus from the blood transfusion. After all, in the 80s and 90s, most people who were diagnosed with AIDS had received blood transfusions at some point in their life. She’d learned a little about AIDS in a health course. But she didn’t want to believe that she had the terminal disease. She didn’t want to learn anything about AIDS until the doctors were sure she had it. It was like counting your chickens before they hatched. She wished the tests would have been wrong, but she was willing to accept that the doctors were right. Her mother, however, was not.
She had learned, like her mother said, that when people have AIDS their immune system weakens until they can’t even fight off a cold. When it becomes too weak, the victim’s body shuts down. So there it was in a nutshell: inevitable death. That must be the worst wrath that God can force upon you. Bianca would die and it didn’t matter when, but she knew she was going to die and suffer before death. She wondered if complaining to heaven would help.
As if to force the realization of this terrible discovery upon her, the wind began to blow and she pulled her jacket tighter. She knew she shouldn’t be out in the middle of March -she was likely to catch her death. A cold would put her in the hospital. But strangely, the cold felt welcoming. She sat on a bench at the edge of the pond and picked up a few pebbles with her numb fingers, tossing them onto the ice. She knew winter would soon be over and spring would come.
“Casting stones into the valley of pity, huh?”
The sudden voice startled her. Bianca spun around on the bench. Leaning against the other side was an older guy –handsome, about eighteen or so, hands shoved into his pockets.
“Who are you?” Bianca asked.
The guy shrugged. “You don’t know me, but it’s a small town. My dad’s told me about you, about all you’ve been through. I don’t live here, I just visit my father at the end of every winter. I’m awaiting the thaw,” he said, gesturing to the frozen ground.
His casual conversation was confusing and alarming her. She was ready at any second to get up and run away. “So I don’t know you, but you know me?” Bianca guessed, cautiously edging away from him.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Something like that.”
“So, you aren’t going to tell me who you are?” She asked.
“Of course,” he said, bending down to pick up a few pebbles. “You don’t have any idea?”
“No,” Bianca replied, shaking her head. As much as his crazy answers were annoying her, he had definitely captured her attention and her unease was fading.
“My dad was the doctor who gave you the blood transfusion ten years ago,” he explained softly, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Bianca cringed at his touch. She shrugged her shoulder, making his hand fall uselessly to his side. This piece of news caused a surge of emotion. At first she felt anger geared toward this guy and his dad, but then she realized that 10 years ago, no one knew what would come of the life-saving blood transfusions. His dad, the doctor, had done his job. A decade ago he had been the hero; now he was the blame. Realizing this filled her with pity.
“He’s paying a visit to your mom,” the guy said uneasily, sensing her discomfort. “Are you cold? Here, you can have my jacket. If you get sick . . .” his voice trailed off as he wrapped his coat around Bianca’s shoulders.
Though still shocked at the connection she shared with this guy, Bianca forced a smile at his kindness. “Thank you, but I never did get your name. Mine’s Bianca.”
“And mine is Ryan.” He sat down on the bench next to her. “I didn’t want to scare you, but I recognized you from pictures my dad had after the successful blood transfusion.” His eyes widened in horror as he realized what he had just said. Instead of correcting himself, he just added quickly. “You didn’t look like you’ve changed much. I figured maybe I could comfort you in some way.”
She smiled wearily. “How does everyone know? The diagnosis was only confirmed yesterday!”
“I’m not from around here, but I’m guessing that in a town with a population of only 1500, news travels fast,” he joked, but only half-heartedly.
“You’re right.” Bianca was silent, his words reminding her of all the people she had to tell –before they heard it from someone else.
“You know,” Ryan began, “there are worse things than death.”
Bianca sighed. “I do know that. Just try telling it to my mother.”
Ryan grabbed her hand. “Your mother will come around. You know, it’s hard on her. From what my dad says, she’s a lonely, grieving woman, and you’re all she has. She doesn’t want to believe that you have AIDS any more than you do. She’s mad at the world and herself, and sometimes that will probably get in the way of your relationship. But she’ll always love you, even if things seem strained. Though a mother weeps, she has unconditional love. Tears of a mother are never cried in vain.”
“That’s beautiful,” Bianca complimented. “You are so wonderful with words, and I understand what you mean. I just keep wishing that this were all a terrible nightmare,” she explained. “I’m not sleeping, though. That’s how I know it’s not a dream.”
“At least you know the difference,” Ryan pointed out wisely. “Some people go on believing that all the bad things are just dreams, and each day a piece of their life slips by. Those who acknowledge their misfortunes grow stronger and will live longer.”
Though she hated to end their conversation, a glance at her watch told her that if she didn’t leave now, her mother would worry. “It’s almost dinner time,” Bianca told him. “I’d better be getting home.”
Ryan pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “Here are two places where you can get a hold of me in case you ever need to talk. I’ll come back here whenever you want me to. I feel connected to you because of my father, and I’m going to do everything I can to help you.” He stood up and Bianca watched his retreating figure with longing.
Bianca wanted to call him back desperately, but the tears she was trying so hard to fight were climbing up her throat. Her expression remained melancholy, but it wasn’t because she was going to die. It was because that in dying, she was sure to cause the death of two other things she held dear to her– her mother’s heart and Ryan’s.
Over the months, Bianca and her mom had come to terms with Bianca’s diagnosis. Amazingly, so had the town. At first Bianca was worried they’d be scared of her, like in so many reports she’d read about peoples’ reactions to the illness, but AIDS didn’t scare her little hometown. At first people were a little wary, and some were afraid, but it seemed the more they learned, the more they came to accept Bianca as she was. Everyone put forth extra effort to treat her as they had before, because they knew that was what Bianca wanted.
Still, months had passed, and Bianca was growing weaker. However, with her weakness came a newfound wisdom and knowledge. She was hurting and often confined to the bed, but this didn’t really bother her. Talking to Ryan every once in awhile helped. He’d moved in with his dad after becoming closer to her, and paid frequent visits to cheer her up.
Bianca began to notice and learn things she had not noticed and learned before. From the simplest acts of human kindness and gratitude to the wildlife that flourished on the earth, everything seemed so much more important. Especially the seasons. Even when she was restricted to her bed, she could count on the beauty that lay just outside of her bedroom to make her feel like she was out there, too.
From her bed, a glance out the window could make her feel like she was rolling in the autumn leaves, making a snowman, picking flowers, or dancing in the ran. She’d learned the hard way that ignoring the little things only made their importance grow, and in the end, they became big things.
“You know, Mom,” she said one morning, “spring’s almost over. I think it’s about time we did our spring cleaning.”
Kate looked up from a magazine she was reading. “Hello, Bianca.” Bianca hugged her mother, who then said in puzzlement, "What do you mean? I just cleaned the house two days ago.”
“No, I’m talking about the Bar and Grill,” Bianca explained. “After all the hard work you and Dad put into it, it sits there empty. The dust isn’t just covering up the booths – it’s covering up Dad, too.”
Her mom stood up, surprised at the mention of her deceased husband, and Bianca could tell Kate was fighting back tears. It was the first time he’d been mentioned in years “What do you have in mind?”
“First,” Bianca began, keeping her voice strong, “I think we should change the name. All of the Seasons sounds much better than Brighton’s Bar and Grill. Each corner of the restaurant can be a different season. Fall leaves, snow, flowers, and water. What do you think?”
Her mom looked a little unsure. She smiled encouragingly, though, because she could tell how much it meant to Bianca, and in her mind, it would always be Brighton’s. “It’s a wonderful idea, honey, but are you sure you want to do this? The doctor said you needed your rest.”
“He also said I didn’t have much longer. This is something I really want to do.” Bianca’s eyes were shining with hope and excitement.
Her mom nodded and grabbed her car keys. “Okay, then, let’s go. I know how much you love the Bar and Grill. It makes me feel much better to know you’re trying to make the best of these difficult times. You’re reminding me that maybe I should try a little harder, too. I’m sure your dad is just as proud as I am.” Kate squeezed her daughter’s hand so hard that Bianca’s knuckles turned white. “But why the season theme? And why All of the Seasons, not just The Four Seasons?”
Bianca took a deep breath and steadied her voice. “Well, so far God has been good enough to give me four seasons of life since I’ve been diagnosed with AIDS. But winter, spring, summer and fall aren’t the only seasons. There are different seasons all around us. Unfortunately, there’s even a season for death.”
“Yes, but with the season for death comes the season of a better life,” her mom pointed out, worrying that Bianca was getting depressed. In fact, Kate couldn’t have been farther from the truth, and Bianca told her so.
“I know that, but I want other people to know it, too. I want them to feel like I do when I’m looking out my window, only from their table. I want them to think about running and jumping in a pile of leaves, or making a snowman with the first snow of the year. I want them to imagine swimming in crystal-clear blue water or dancing in the rain. I want them to burst with appreciation for all that they’ve been given.” Bianca finished her speech with a surge of emotion.
Maybe, just maybe, Bianca thought to herself, if I can show them how much the little things in life mean to people who are dying before I die, they will come to appreciate them that much more.
“Well,” her mother said softly, “you can add me to that list of people.”
It was only then that Bianca realized she’d spoken her dying wish out loud.