There are marigolds on the window box of my apartment balcony. They are a riot of orange and yellow, chosen because they are easy to keep alive and my thumbs are decidedly not green. Most of the things I have loved have died… but not these little flowers. Not the marigolds.
They’re apparently the birth flower for October, you know, the month I was born. They represent both life, energy and optimism, but also are the flower of the dead, of grief and mourning. This makes sense, a flower as double sided, as bifurcated as I, myself, am. One foot planted in the world of the living… and one firmly in the land of the dead.
Now, don’t you mistake what I’m telling you. I’m not some aged crone, counting off my days in an memory-hoarded home that smells of old dust, and too many cats, staving off Old Mr Arthur by rubbing creams into the gnarled wood knots of my joints. But neither am I the youthful coquette I once was, with a tiny plaid skirt that barely covered my bum, ready for any adventure, never pretty, but cute and friendly. No, I am something in the middle. An old maid, not a spinster. An old maid is a never married woman, a spinster was never married and never anything else. I was once something else. I still am, but in a new form.
What I am now is the sort of thing people talk about in hushed tones, and pitied glances. I’m used to it now, but the first couple of years… wow, was it hard.
It is not close enough to Hallowe’en to expect spirits and ghouls but there are pumpkins on my doorstep, and a crackle painted monstrosity of squished clay and childish imagination that my then-five-year-old son insisted was a “shpooky black cat,” on the window sill.
“Shipooky?” I had asked, before swooping him up into my arms, twirling around the room singing, “Shipooky, shipooky, the cat who’s hard to pet, Shipooky, shipooky, but you can pet it yet!”
“Stop making up songs,” my son scolded.
"Never," I laughed.
My apartment is a one bedroom, because I don’t need more than that for just me, and to be honest, I don’t even make it to bed most nights. Even in October, Southern California is hot, and since the window box a/c that was all the apartment was equipped with didn’t reach the bedroom, I usually found the couch more comfortable, the tv on low, a meditation app playing “Soft Rain on Lake” accompanied by gently rolling shades of blue. I’m sure that eventually this lazy comfort will be taken from me, as already I can feel the twinges in my back and neck after a night on the sofa. My spine clicks and clacks and I know soon I will need a firmer sleeping place, a wedge pillow under my knee to align things properly.
Work is spread out on the coffee table, a laptop, some papers. I’m lucky enough to work from home, and some days, when I am feeling particularly anti-human, I don’t go out at all. Shawarma and an ice tea delivered to the doorstep, picked up when the delivery guy has gone away. I’d call “Thank you,” down the hall at his retreating footsteps and sometimes I would get a cheery response back, always hoping that personable service would encourage a better tip. The evidence of my lack of social interest makes a precarious fort of styrofoam and cardboard, all carefully stashed away from the view of the web meetings I must attend every other day. They only need my work, not my lonely lifestyle.
The rain app is doing it’s trick as I lower the screen of my laptop, and I rest against the pillow whose case I really should be washing more often. Dingy but not filthy, it could stand to be tossed into the next load of laundry. Pain in the ass to go down to the laundry room though. More than once, I’ve ordered a nine pack of panties to be delivered overnight rather than do the wash. Not going to lie. The perks of a modern world.
I scroll on my phone, playing a mind numbing game until the screen grows hard to see and the tiny expensive device slips from my hand. It tumbles to the carpet, the silicone sleeve I bought to protect it doing the job I require. The a/c blows across me and I can smell the musty marigolds on the recycled air.
“Mom…” he says, as he sits on the couch beside me, his weight denting the cushion in a way that it hadn’t towards the end. “You asleep?”
“Mm hmm,” I murmur. “You’re here…”
“I’m always here,” he says, his voice so much stronger, so much more him than I remember. At the end, he hadn’t even sounded like himself, a frail whisper, painful and heartbreaking. “You put Shipooky out?”
“In the window,” I tell him, my eyes still closed, my body still stretched out on the couch, legs passing through the space where he sits. He rests his hand on mine, where they are folded on my stomach. “The cat that’s hard to pet…” I smile.
“You need to stop making up songs,” he teases and I laugh.
“Never,” I whisper.
He bends and kisses my forehead, the way I had that day, that last day, with the beeping of the machines and distant murmur of the medical staff behind the door. “You can pet him yet…”
Then, there is only me…
And the rain app…
And, the whoosh of the air conditioner…
And the marigolds.