Cars began to file out of the driveway and the house grew quiet again. The cries and the mumbled condolences had filtered out the front doors, leaving a silent reminder of what had occurred that day. Although Nancy had only been Rose’s stepmother, she still missed the woman dearly.
During the funeral Rose had stayed with her half-brother, Charlie. At just two years old, he did not yet understand his mother would not be coming back. Charlie had a strong grip on Rose’s black silk dress as he dragged her through endless hallways lined with frames.
Pictures of her father’s family.
Photographs from Charlie’s first birthday in the summer of 1931.
Portraits of Nancy in her wedding dress.
She felt she was intruding just by looking at them.
After passing Charlie off to an uncle, she made her way to the garden behind the house. The land was cut down the middle by a single walkway which wrapped around a great fountain of stone lined with white marble. Rows of tulips of every color blossomed before her eyes. It was easy to see why it had been one of Nancy’s favorite places.
Looking to her right, she found her father sitting on the bench against the garden wall having a cigarette. She stood silently at the double doors and took note of just how different he looked since she had last seen him. Rose had kept in touch with Nancy through letters and the occasional visit, but her father had faded from her life.
Though it had only been three years since Rose last saw him, the changes were drastic. His once proud stance had shriveled into a hunched form. His skin looked sickly and the bags under his eyes were as gray as the gravel below his feet. His black hair, though short, was disheveled and strands of it fell on his forehead. When she drew closer to him, she could see that only his eyes remained the same. The ice blue was still just as cold as she had always known them to be.
“When mom died, it was just Aunt Lizzie and I that went to the funeral. The rest of you were fighting in the war. It was odd,” Rose said as she took a seat beside him on the stone bench.
“I thought you left with Lizzie.” He didn’t spare her a glance, only throwing the cigarette to the ground before looking out to the garden his wife had loved.
“I was playing with Charlie.”
She didn’t want to make the interaction longer than it had to be and there was only one reason she had gone to him.
“Here.” She handed him the package from her purse.
“What is this?” He held the brown parcel but didn’t open it.
“Nancy found Mom’s wedding ring and gave it to me.”
“It wasn’t hers to give,” he said as he pocketed the ring into his jacket.
“She thought I should have it.”
“Why are you giving it back to me? So I can give it to you properly?” There was a sliver of amusement laced in his voice.
She scoffed and said, “I have very low expectations of you as a person, James, let alone as my father.”
He seemed unmoved by the insult.
“I came to pay my condolences,” Rose continued. She wrapped her jacket tightly around her as the wind picked up.
“That’s what funerals are for.”
“I meant to you. I lost both of my parents. Mom and Nancy. Nancy knew I loved her just as much. I’m sorry that she won’t get to see Charlie grow up.”
A minute of silence came and went before James looked at her face for the first time in what felt like forever. Rose felt a great sympathy for his suffering, but she had no love left for him. The only thing holding them together was their blood and their mutual love for those who had left them.
“He looks like you, aside from the eyes. Those are Nancy’s.” Charlie and Rose were the exact opposites in that way. She had her mother’s golden locks and pointed nose, but inherited her father’s eyes. Aunt Lizzie once said it was the only thing he had given her.
“I’ve been told.”
Their gazes broke off and settled on the sight before them. The flowers only served to remind him of his late wife. He planned to rip them from the ground that weekend, but the faint smell of tulips would still linger in the air.
“Make sure to spend time with Charlie. Keep the portraits up so he’ll remember what she looks like.”
“Are you giving me parenting advice now?”
“You would benefit from it.”
James nodded at her words before standing and saying, “I’ll have someone drive you home.”
He walked away and headed back inside. She knew that once she got home Lizzie would tell her that James tries his best, but she would sound unconvinced.
She stood and took in the beautiful garden for the last time, silently thanking Nancy. Nancy had managed to bring light to the parts of James that Rose had only seen as a kid. When the two had loved each other as a father and his child should. Nancy had managed to melt the ice in his irises into lukewarm pools.
Once she met her father at the front door, the car was waiting for her. Her father kept his gaze planted on the floor.
“I’m leaving in two days. There’s a nursing school near mom’s sister. She said I could live with her until I get my own place. I probably won’t come back.”
His response was so delayed she thought she wouldn’t get one until a whisper broke the silence.
“Forgive me.” James’s voice had taken on a vulnerable tone Rose never heard from him.
She hid her surprise behind a cold mask she had perfected from years of watching her father.
“I’m not sure I can do that.”
James cleared his throat and stood straight.
“When Mom got sick, I tried to care for her. But how much can a child do for a dying woman? I needed you there,” she inhaled sharply before laughing slightly, “the day they announced the war had ended; it was the happiest day of my life. I thought that I would finally get my father back but when you came out of that train, you barely glanced at me before walking away. I won’t forgive you for coming back.”
“I can’t change the fact that I went to war. I lost too many people in those years and your mother just ended up being one of them. What do you want me to do about that?”
“Just do what you’ve always done: nothing.”
Rose turned to look up at him before speaking. “I want you to remember this moment and pray that Charlie never feels the way I do. That he never tells you there’s no love in him when he looks at you.”
“I did the best I could for you.”
“I know you did. That’s the worst part of it.”
This time Rose was the one to walk away. She willed her eyes to remain forward, but her mind drifted to Charlie. She could only hope that his life would be filled with the happiness hers lacked.
Thais Jacomassi is a recent graduate from Emerson College with a Bachelor’s in Writing, Literature, and Publishing with a minor in History. She is an award winning author as well as a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has been featured in various literary magazines including The Emerson Review, Concrete Literary Magazine, and The Echo Literary Magazine.