THE KITTEN AND THE ROSE
Beth gazed out the window holding a now cold mug of coffee in her hands. It was windy outside and hadbeen drizzling all night.
“The day looks like I feel,” she mused.
The terrible events of two years ago came to her, unbidden, as they had every day since. The accident. She had called her husband, Ron, from her job at Kwik Kopy and asked him to pick up their cat from the vets office. The Grovestown Church Lady’s Auxiliary had sent over a huge custom order and she was going to be a little late getting home.
Beth had dropped off Baxter, their much loved red tabby cat off at the vets earlier that day. She was worried as he hadn’t eaten in the past few days. Ron laughed when Beth called him teasingly remarking that she loved that silly cat more than him. Beth had enjoyed the private joke with him, laughing herself, knowing Ron loved Baxter as much as she.
Ron had, in fact, triumphantly carried Baxter into their apartment one day as a kitten and gently placed him in her lap. Beth had been homesick, married only two months, and had moved to another state to start her new life with Ron. She remembered looking at a little red fluff of fur that looked up at her with adoring eyes and mewed, and how happy it had made her.
Beth had grown up on a farm with many brothers and sisters, and even more creatures of the four legged variety, and had always had a cat of her own. Indulged with sweet cream, bits of meat, and never ending amounts of love,
Baxter had grown into a huge, contented tabby. Beth remembered Ron’s words that day, ending the conversation with “I love you” as he always did. It was the last time Beth ever heard Ron’s voice.
She would never forget the details of that day. She had finished up the order at Kwik Kopy, and packaged it for pick-up, clocked out and rushed to Mrs. Anderson’s daycare to pick up their then four-year-old daughter, Alyse.
Beth made a quick stop at the market to pick up some salad and spaghetti, and then proceeded to their little apartment six blocks away. There was a police car out front, at first she didn’t think anything about it. Beth entered the foyer and Officer Harvey, startled by her arrival, turned to look at her. She knew something terrible had happened.
There in the foyer, holding tightly to her daughter’s chubby little hand, Officer Harvey told her how sorry he was, that there had been an accident. Ron’s truck had been struck by another car that had lost control on the ice. In an instant, Ron and Baxter were gone. Her life was gone. In it’s place was emptiness so deep Beth never felt quite whole again after that day.
The funeral was a blur, she did
her best to stay strong for Alyse. Beth was amazed at the calmness of her daughter. At first Alyse wept a lot, and asked her mother when daddy and Baxter were coming back, Alyse didn’t understand that they would never come back. Beth did her best to explain. In the days that followed, Alyse cried a lot but slowly understood her daddy was gone.
Alyse told her mother one day about three weeks after the funeral, “Daddy and Baxter are with the angels now” and she never cried again. Beth marveled at the child’s quiet acceptance that their family was now two instead of four.
Ron’s insurance policy wasn’t big, but it had been enough, taking care of the funeral expenses and a few outstanding bills they had. Beth had kept her job at Kwik Kopy and her boss, Jimmy, had been more than supportive.
Beth found herself pondering their friends. At first people had come to her apartment in droves, bringing food and offering to help with Alyse. Gratefully, she acquiesced to the well-meaning attentions of their friends.
Over time, that attention dwindled to an occasional drop in visit, then a phone call once in a while, and culminated in her best friend telling her to “Snap out of it” a year and a half later when Beth refused a blind date set up.
She just wasn’t ready. She still loved Ron, missed his impish grin and easy laughter. She missed the single red rose he always brought her every Friday night, giving it to her as if it was the very first time he had ever given her a flower.
It brought a wistful smile to her face when she recounted how Ron always, after hugging her, would pick up Baxter from his customary place in the kitchen windowsill, and hug him too, joking that Baxter was far too spoiled for his own good. Ron would waggle his brows at Beth, holding the rather smug looking Baxter in his arms. Baxter knew the real deal, and promptly began pawing at Ron’s shirt pocket, where inside was a treat. After ceremoniously offering Baxter his daily treat, Ron would roar through the apartment calling out “Where is my princess!” and soon Alyse’s peals of laughter would fill the home. Beth usually found the both of them rolling on the floor laughing, as Alyse tried to escape her daddy’s tickling fingers.
Beth felt the familiar sting of tears in her eyes just as she heard Alyse’s quiet voice say “Don’t be sad mommy.” Beth put her mug of coffee down on the table, and hugged her daughter tightly to her whispering in her ear “I love you baby, everything’s going to be ok, I promise.”
Steeling herself, Beth busied herself in the daily routine of dressing Alyse and herself for the day, making a quick breakfast and then walking to Mrs. Anderson’s to drop Alyse off. Alyse attended afternoon kindergarten and Mrs. Anderson watched her in the mornings, provided her with lunch, took her to school, and picked her up
afterward. Beth had been grateful for the loving continuity Mrs. Anderson gave to them both, knowing she couldn’t have handled all of this without her.
After dropping Alyse off, Beth walked to Kwik Kopy, just a few blocks down Main Street, doing the best she could to avoid the puddles on the sidewalk. Beth passed the village flower shop just two doors down from Kwik Kopy, glancing up at the breath-taking window display of red and yellow roses, and nearly cried, feeling again the heaviness in her heart.
Today would have been their seventh anniversary.
Jimmy was already at work, busily working on orders as Beth entered to the familiar backdrop of whirring copier machines. “Good morning Beth,” he called out to her as she hung her slicker on the coat tree. Beth returned his smile replying “Looks like it’s going to be a busy day” as she observed the “In” box was overflowing. Indeed, the “In” box was full of special orders, and it was an especially busy day with plenty of walk-in requests too. Beth was relieved at the business of the day.
She didn’t have to think, just work. Five o’clock came quickly and the hectic quality of the day had reduced ways, Jimmy turned to her and lightly put his hand on her shoulder quietly saying her name, “Beth.” She looked at him expectantly. “Beth, you going to be ok? My wife has made plenty if you and Alyse would like to have supper with us.”
“Really, I’m fine,” Beth replied, but the concern she saw in his eyes was unmistakable. She dreaded going home and faking her way through the evening for Alyse, but dreaded the prospect of being in the company of others even more, especially Jimmy and Kathy, who were newly weds themselves.
“Beth, I know what day today is, really, if you change your mind, give me a calland I’ll come get you, ok?”
Beth hugged him fiercely, and in a forced whisper said “Thanks, Jimmy” Asshe turned to walk away, she told Jimmy to give his wife her thanks and regards, explaining she wanted to spend the evening with Alyse.
It was still raining and it seemed to Beth that it had gotten a little colder since that morning. She began to walk to Mrs. Anderson’s house, and as she passed the alley before the flower shop she stopped. She had heard something. Beth stood there on the sidewalk listening. There it was again.
Her curiosity aroused, she stepped into the alley. Hearing nothing Beth turned away to leave, and a plaintive mew issued from within the alley again and there sat a tiny, miserably wet little orange blob of a kitten.
Beth approached the kitten slowly, and bent down to have a better look. The kitten sat there watching her with huge eyes.
“Well there little one, what on earth are you doing out here all by yourself?”
The kitten returned her gaze, and mewed once more. Beth couldn’t resist, she swept him up in her arms, hugging him to her. She tucked him inside her slicker as he began to purr, and stepped out of the alley.
As she turned the corner, her gaze fell to a single red rose, lying in the sidewalk.
Beth looked both directions to see if someone had dropped it, but the sidewalk was empty. She stood there, alone in the rain, holding a kitten in her coat and staring at the rose.
A smile welled up from within her, breaking out into laughter. She stood there not caring if anyone walked past thinking her crazy. She didn’t care that she was getting soaked. She didn’t care that the rose may have been inadvertently dropped by a hurried delivery boy.
She was taking in the moment. A kitten, a rose and her anniversary. Ron. Her mind swam with memories of Ron and of Baxter. Her laughter subsided, leaving that wonderfully warm feeling inside, that she hadn’t felt in two years.
She reached down to pick up the rose, and held it to her nose, savoring its aroma. She caught a reflection of herself in the flower shop window. There stood a wet woman with mascara running down her face, holding a bedraggled wet kitten in one hand and a rose in the other.
Beth smiled again, and began to walk to Mrs. Anderson’s to pick up Alyse. It looked like it was going to be a good evening after all.
(Maria Appleby, 2000, All Rights Reserved)
(please pardon the glaring grammar errors, this was my first short story!)