We stand there, both of us, staring at the too-small mound of fresh earth, and the stone that shows birth and death on the same day, in the same year.
“Dearest, it is growing dark; are you certain you wish to remain here?”
“Just a little longer,” I tell my husband. “Please?”
It wasn’t usual anymore, the burying of bodies, but I had insisted. “I want to bring him home. I want to bury him next to his grandfather.”
And so, even though we live in an age when the dead are cremated and the ashes mixed into the gardens, or, if you had the resources, consigned to the heart of a star, we put the body of our stillborn son in stasis and carted him half way across the quadrant for an old-fashioned funeral.
Our friends had returned to the spaceship that had brought us here, but we’d be staying on, in our jungle bungalow, on the privately-owned planet that was sometimes a retreat, sometimes a refuge, sometimes a vacation destination, and always – always – the place we both considered home, even more than the silvery ship in orbit, where my husband worked.
I don’t know where the roses had come from. Obviously, someone had sent them, as you do. We’d received all kinds of flowers and cards. My uncle, the rock star, had even planted a grove of trees on one of the colony worlds where he was donating performances and music lessons – part of his image restructuring, I knew – but a nice gesture, even so.
I do know that the sharp thorns were the only thing I could feel, biting through the gloves my husband had insisted I wear, and drawing blood that is dripping steadily to the ground, sinking into the soil – a part of me, left with my child who will never grow up.
“Dearest, you are shivering and you are bleeding. Please allow me to escort you back inside.”
I turn to look into his face, etched with sorrow and grief that matches mine, and worry lines that are all his own. “I don’t want to – I’m not ready to leave him.”
“And we shall not leave him, beloved. We will only be inside, a few meters away. We will not leave him until you are ready.” His tone is gentle. Patient. Careful.
I answer with a nod. I allow my husband to pry the rose from my hand. He stares at it for a moment, my blood staining his skin, and then he drops it and leads me inside.
The rest of the bouquet is waiting there, on the counter, the card unopened. I wait to read it until after I’ve changed into an old t-shirt and sweatpants and allowed the thorn-picks in my hand to be treated.
My reaction to the words is immediate and violent. I sweep my hand across the counter knocking the vase to the floor. It shatters on the tile, water and broken glass spraying everywhere.
My husband shouts my name, filling the syllables with alarm and concern. “What is wrong?” he asks me, leading me away from the mess.
I hand him the card, see his expression change as he reads the simple message addressed solely to me. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Pigeon.” There is no signature, but it doesn’t matter, we both know who sent the flowers.
“I should have recognized that these were not sent from a close friend,” my husband says, taking the blame for my upset as his own. “You have never cared for roses.”