Old age was a curse.
Anyone old enough could relate.
It marked the slow end of abilities, and the beginning of limitations. But this was a world made of limitations, wasn’t it? Old age was an abomination, a fence, an unscalable wall, but only if you ignored your abilities all your life long. Within those boundaries, anyone could roam freely.
My name is Rose, like the flower. My short-lived husband, Carl, loved my bloom, my thorns, my venom. He called my sense of justice, venom.
We met in a soup kitchen, where I cooked. He always brought me his best vegetables. He grew them in his little garden outside town. During war, it kept him alive, he told me once. We talked a lot about the human nature, death and suffering. He seemed to be a kind man, with a warm but sad smile. It amazed me, that he had no anger or hate left for anybody, only an eternal sadness.
We liked each other, and after three months of meeting, talking and working side by side, we married… It seemed a good decision. Carl tried to be reliable, strong, hard and just, to impress me. He tried to be the best husband he could be. He made me softer, more indulgent – he made me smile. I loved him for that. In those grim times, laughter was gold…
We never had children of our own, so we took care of the lost, the abandoned and the hungry. We did a lot for the community. After the war, we fed the poor, three times a week. People knew, they could always ask us for help.
We did what we could.
I cooked. Carl timbered toys. Sometimes, he made furniture… We gave. Clothes, food, time, a bed, sometimes money – anything we could do without. It was important, for both of us. We shared. We stood by.
Then… Carl died, by his own hand.
He never talked to me, like he did in his last letter, but I understood. I finally understood. All his perpetual obsession with the needy, he wanted to atone for his unnamed sins… He thought that he couldn’t give enough. Poor Carl, I never knew, how agonized his soul was…
I couldn’t let him go, but I had to…
When they came to cut him down, I already pulled out three of his molars. I wanted to keep him nearby, at least a part of him. Later that year, I gave the molars to a good friend, a gold smith. He made me an ivory pendant and a ring. He made me a set. A skull hidden under the sun. He has been the light, the warmth, on my bones… Even now. That was, how I wanted to remember our time together.
After several months, I picked up, where we left. I doubled my efforts, and tried to fill in the hole Carl’s sudden death ripped into our duty.
I worked a regular job as a cleaning lady, and I cooked and sewed for those who asked for it.
Some people came to me for help more than once. Some needed more than others, being weaker, sicker and poorer in body and mind. It was hard. It was harder than I imagined. Sometimes it was unbearable. Without Carl giving me hope, I cried myself to sleep, nearly every night. I didn’t know what to do…
It didn’t matter what I tried, the needy became weaker and weaker. They gave up on me, they gave up on themselves. Overwhelmed with helplessness, I couldn’t allow Carl’s efforts go to waste! Even if he had abandoned me, I had to save his work, his legacy.
One sleepless night, I realized, that these people were eating me alive. They did not care, if what they took, left enough for others. They simply didn’t care… It dawned on me. They were selfish and rotten, right down to the core.
They were using me!
All. The. Time!
Satisfied with their achievements, they had no interest in getting better, anytime soon. They wouldn’t get on their own feet.
It made me gag.
Inside I roared, wanted to tear out my guts. I’ve been so naive all these years… But that was how it was, how I was… I swore, that this would never happen to me again.
The rage burnt me up. Literally. I ran a fever and fell ill.
My body couldn’t take it anymore. It didn’t bother me, that I was on the brink of death, maybe I would see Carl. The doctors fought for my life, but I was empty, and alone. If you wondered, no one came to visit. Not one of them! Those people, who took from me and Carl, did not come. NOT ONE!
Deep inside, all the anger and the disappointment in humanity surfaced, it leaked from somewhere below, some well hidden place – without light, without warmth. I craved revenge.
For the doctors, a miracle, but I knew it was sweetest payback. It was pulling the life back into me. I felt Carl shaking his head at my determination, wherever he was. He would have disagreed, but I still had a job to do. It was my duty.
I bought a little farm, renovated it and started to build up a garden. Vegetables grew tasty and juicy, herbs were rich in essential oils. The flowers stopped the traffic at my fences. I made my living with that. Carl’s special way with all plants stayed with me, as if it was his present to me. I sold what I harvested, or the village people asked for. It wasn’t much, but it sufficed. For a while I was nearly happy. Having myself back, I often talked to Carl. I felt him smile and caress my cheek, like he used to, when he was proud of me. His light, his warmth came back into my bones…
He would have liked it there. I had some chicken and ducks. I even started keeping bees.
All was well… Till one day my help was needed again.
A mother with two little girls wandered in, wet and hungry. They stood one evening on my porch, knocking on my door, shivering and crying. Beaten purple, blue and green, Maria clutched at her daughters seeking shelter. She looked so desperate. Her drunk husband was looking for them. That was what she told me.
Of all people, they came to me…
Naturally, I would help them. Why not? I’d help them with what I could, like Carl and I always did, so many years ago. But this time it would end differently… I wouldn’t allow anyone to drain me.
There was rat poison in the shed…
Author: Ramona Darabant
R. C. Darabant was born Romania and lives now near Vienna, where she works as a family physician. When she isn’t working, she writes poetry, flash fiction and short stories. She recharges her batteries during storms and night strolls. In her stories, there is a distinct lack of happy endings. It’s not pathological, rest assured, she had that checked.