“Mom, who are you talking to?” My mother stood by the stairs, chatting away to empty air. It was late- really late. The hall was dark.
“The young man, don’t you see him?” She looked at me as if it were obvious and I was being rude to her invisible friend. I backed away, my feet dragging on the cold floor. I closed my door behind me and tucked myself back into bed. Mom was always seeing things no one else did.
The storm was strong. The winds attempted to blow the car off-course and the rains made it impossible to see beyond the dim headlights. It was dark as night in the middle of the day.
“Mom’s outside.” I say peering through the darkness, seeing the white outline of her shape against the dark house.
“What?” My brother asks distractedly as he struggled to keep the car on the slick road.
“Mom’s outside!” I shout, panicking as the situation hit me. How did she get outside? She had been sick for months, barely able to et out of bed, nevertheless walk down the hall and push open the heavy front door. I jumped out of the car, into the rain as soon as we pulled into the driveway. I didn’t even wait for my brother to finish parking. Stumbling on the concrete I ran to my mother who was casually strolling amongst the roses- seemingly unaware of the threatening thunder and lightning around her.
“Mom, are you ok? Are you hurt? How did you get outside?” The questions tumbled out of our mouths as we rushed over to her.
“The young man took me outside to see my roses.” She smiled at us. “He took me outside to see my roses,” she repeated, “then it started to rain.”
My brother and I looked at each other. We had been away for less than an hour. We made sure she was asleep and the door was firmly shot and locked. Neither of us knew of any “Young Man” in the neighborhood other than my brother himself.
“I haven’t seen them in so long. My roses… the young man, he brought me outside to see my roses. Such a nice young man. He’s always so thoughtful.” She told us as we guided her inside. As I gathered a towel and dry clothes for her I thought back to that unsettling encounter decades before. “He’s always so thoughtful.” She had said.
“She passed sometime during the night- presumably in her sleep.” The home director told us. We sat in the director’s office as he offered us coffee, telling us about our Mother’s final moments. I held my husband’s hand as the director continued to talk to me and my brother.
“Her final days were peaceful- she told everyone how happy she was to see you. It meant a lot to her that you came to visit. Many children don’t and regret it for the rest of their lives.” The director gave a small, sad smile. “You made her passing peaceful.”
“Thank you, Mr. Tate.” I said in hallow sort of voice. He walked us out of his office and down the hall to her rooms. “Yes, you two and the young man have made her final days as pleasant as they could possibly be. Will he be joining us?”
“Who? What young man?” My brother and I looked at each other and I gripped my husband’s hand tighter.
“You must know him? Your mother was always talking about him. He visited her almost every evening. I never saw him myself, I’m not sure if any of us ever did, but the nurses said they often heard the two of them talking. Your mother was very fond of him. She always asked the nurses to leave her slippers on at night, so he could take her to see her roses.
Mr. Tate opened the door. The small kitchenette was as we left it yesterday. The couch in the living room still contained a rumbled blanket from the evening. In the corner, by the window, was my mother’s bed, sheets still turned down from the morticians removing her lifeless body. I approached the bed.
“We try not to touch or change anything when one of our resident’s pass. We wish to keep everything as normal as possible for family.”
I ran my freehand along the old blankets, from the foot of her bed to the pillow where I had seen her smiling face the evening before. I lifted something from the soft cotton pillowcase, in the dent her head should be resting. In her place there was a single, white, garden rose.