He was seventeen years old and he couldn't forget. He had begun to believe that he never would. It had been years, and he still came back, year after year after year. Sometimes he asked himself why. Why did his father never come? He was away, always away, it seemed. One week it was Melbourne. Another, Paris. And now, Sao Paolo. It was after he hung up the phone with his father in Tokyo that he realized it wasn't just work. His father was trying to escape. He was old enough and smart enough to see that.
Why should he have to stay, he wondered, if his father didn't. His father was more mature, calmer, and quieter. He should be the one here, carrying the burden, and shouldering the pain. But then again, perhaps it was simply time itself that made it harder. Every footprint, every tree, every bird chirping reminded his father of her. Every sunset, every sunrise. Everything.
It was typical, the most typical of autumn days. The same gold tipped clouds , the same soggy piles of leaves, and the same scent of dampened earth.
He walked with deliberate steps to the deserted bridge, which lazily traversed a deep ravine. Sitting on the edge, with his arms above the railing, he looked down into the drifting water. During the spring time, it would gurgle white, and the roar of it would cloud his mind, and the water would splash so high he could feel it on his face. Now though, in the early stages of autumnal infancy, it wandered aimlessly, fifty feet below his swinging bare feet.
He turned at the sound of his name, and smiled at the sight of her. Not a happy smile, just a peaceful smile. It was his mother. She always came on this very day to visit him at the bridge, without fail, for the past ten years. She wore faded tan Birkenstocks, like always, and a fuzzy pink fleece with rolled up sleeves. Her jeans were baggy and wrinkled, and her purple nail polish was chipped on the right thumb. Like always.
She sat down next to him on the mossy wood, swinging her feet. Her mass of brown curly hair still smelled of faintly of lavender, her signature scent. He saw in his mind memories of a younger self bringing lavender bouquets tied with a yellow ribbon to her for Mother's Day.
"You came," he said. His tone was neutral, not overly warm, but not aloof in the least.
"David, I always come," she replied, with the pleasant, slightly raspy voice he remembered. He let the sound of her voice surround him, and it relaxed him like a familiar tune.
He never asked her why she never came on any other day. He just knew. This day, this particular day, was the only day that felt right. It was the only suitable day. And he didn't mind.They sat next to each other, not speaking, just watching the water below, enjoying the beautiful afternoon light.
"How's your father?" she asked lightly.
"Wonderful. He's been so busy with work."
"That's your father all right. Never with any time to spare for you," she replied. But the old bitterness was gone, she spoke with the familiarity of a well used joke.
Just out of habit he smiled, the right side of his mouth lifting just a bit higher than the left. It was a trait he had inherited from her. His smile gave him a quaint character, touched with a unique sadness that seemed to be eternal.
She smiled too. But he realized, with a sudden shock, that she had changed. Or was it just the fading rays? Her eyes seemed to sparkle with an ethereal glow, and her face was light and radiant. She shone with a life he had never seen her have. Something he himself didn't have.
"You've changed," he commented tersely, almost accusingly.
For a moment she didn't answer, and sat quietly, seemingly lost in the joy of simply being.
"I have, darling," she sighed. "The truth is that all the pain has gone from me. It left me. When I left you. When I left this world."
He stared, then turned away sharply, as if unable to look at her for another moment. When he spoke again, a foreign note entered his voice. He took a moment before he identified it himself and cringed inwardly at the thought of it. Jealousy.
"Mom, you've always been the one I've turned to. I've always wanted to be exactly like you. You know that," he whispered. "And I still do."
The clouds had deepened into a warm rose. Already, the air had began to nip at his skin, nagging him. Crickets began to chirp their goodnight symphonies. The sky still carried the memory of a beautiful day, but was awash with the preparations and eminence of night. He rubbed his arms with his hands and shivered slightly.
When they looked up at each other, he could see the familiar look in her face. It was the same look he had ten years ago, when he was just seven years old. It had confused him them, and it confused him now. It was a complicated look, one that seemed to be happiness, anger, sadness, and a strange peace rolled up in to one. Her wrinkles and her smile lines seemed to deepen in the darkening light.
"I love you. I always have. And I always want nothing but the best for you. I can help you, and I want to help you."
"Help you find yourself. Help you finally get what you want. I want you to be happy, like I am."
She looked at him, and her eyes hardened. The sparkle had left her, and her voice was flat. Her pale skin seemed almost translucent.
"Just come with me," she said. "Just come into my arms. And I'll take you with me."
"Where are we going?"
She smiled again, and her eyes shone with the glassy light of moisture.
"There is a place for people like you and me. It is a place not on this world. I have been there, and the moment I stepped inside, I knew. You will, too. You are my son, and I feel in my whole being that you are meant to come with me. And there is pain, but there is no greater pain than feeling like you are all alone."
"I'm not alone, Mom. I have you, and I always will."
The tears began to stream from her eyes and dropped from her cheeks into her lap.
"Oh darling, don't you understand? I'm not in your world. I’m not here. Soon, very soon, I will fade from your life. I've made my choice, and now, it is time for you to make yours."
He looked down at her worn Birkenstocks. He looked past her onto the gravelly path from where they both came, but he saw just one set of prints. He looked into her eyes, a burning grey color, so like his own, and didn't hesitate a moment longer. He collapsed, head first, into her familiarity, into her memory, into an enveloping sea of lavender for the last time.
The next morning, the body of a seventeen year old boy was discovered lying at the bottom of the ravine on the ten year anniversary of his mother's suicide. A brief examination confirmed that there had been no foul play, and that the death was purely of his own accord. No suicide note had been found. The only trace of the boy was a single lavender blossom carried in his pocket. The police offered their condolences to the family, and noted quietly that his face "carried a soft expression of eternal peace, like he had finally been reunited with something lost".