I dipped my hand in the water, causing ripples to spread from where I touched the surface. Minnows darted away from my hand as I waved it through the water, washing off the heat and dirt of the hot summer day. I swiped my wet hand across my face to cool it, the breeze cold against my forehead but warm on my arms and legs, and stared at the huge, perfect water lily across from me, the silky white petals fading into pink at the edges, the sweet scent that rose from it, the bright green leaf beneath it. Sophie’s favorite flower.
I looked beneath the surface of the pond. Fish swam around in their own underwater world. I wondered if I should get the net, but it seemed like too much work. Everything seemed like too much work, these days.
I stayed in the sun.
Beetles skated across the surface of the pond. A frog I hadn’t even seen a few feet away from me jumped in with a sudden splash, startling me. But the warm sun and the sound of an occasional droning insect overhead made me want to do nothing but sleep. I laid my head down on the grass, but sleep wouldn’t come. Instead came the memories.
“No,” I quietly protested, my voice barely a whisper. But heedless of my voice, they came.
My parents had adopted me when I was small, a little over one year old. Alexandra and Sophie had always wanted to improve the life of some orphan child, so they flew all the way to China to find me. My biological parents had left me, and that’s all I care to know about them. Alexandra and Sophie had raised me well.
She has been so pretty. Her long, shining hair, her bright brown eyes. She was the friendly laughing one, always ready to shower me with hugs. The one with scores of friends, who smiled at strangers walking by. The one who was always doing something, always encouraging me to do things. And now she’s gone.
I remember the day perfectly. I was going to school, Alexandra was going to the office, Sophie was going to the bank where she worked. She kissed me goodbye and reminded me to pick up another permission slip, since I had lost the first one. I had no idea those would be her last words to me. I don’t remember what said to her in reply, probably “See you later,” or “Okay”
It’s funny how you never know what your last words to someone might be.
It was a normal day for me. Alexandra picked me up and took me home, and I was reading in my room when I got the news. I remember the exact book I was reading, even, when Alexandra came into my room, her face pale as a ghost. “Sophie’s dead,” was all she said.
The bank where she was working had caught fire. All the other workers and customers escaped except for Sophie, who was crushed by a piece of the falling ceiling. Gone. Just like that.
I looked at the water lily again. A bee had alighted on it, collecting pollen no doubt. She was lucky. All she had to do was go from plant to hive, flower to flower. Nothing she had to think about but her work.
Sophie’s death had affected both of us in different ways. Alexandra, who had always been quiet and serious, started doing things just to keep herself busy. She would sweep the floors when they were clean already. She would go to work on the weekends, when she used to hate her job. I think she’s afraid that if she ever stops moving, if she has time to stop and think, the grief will catch up to her. I don’t know if she even slept. Myself, I spent my time in my mind, going outdoors, withdrawn, alone.
It still hurt though.
“Do you see the water lilies, Juliet?” Sophie asked. We were at the very same pond together, looking at the water. Autumn was coming, and brightly colored leaves were floating on the water, under the brilliant blue sky. But the water lilies were still in bloom, white and pure and perfect.
She pointed at the biggest one, soft pink on snowy white, pristine and beautiful. My five year old self gasped in delight. It looked like somewhere a fairy would sleep, beneath the soft petals. I reached out a chubby little hand to touch it, but couldn’t quite reach. “They’re my favorite flower.”
“Mine too!” I said, eager to be like her.
Sophie smiled at me. She then reached into the water and pulled out a smaller water lily.
“They’re my favorite because even with no ground to put their roots in, only water to float in, they still grow.” She placed the little white lily in my hair, dripping water on me in the process.
“Hey! I laughed. “I’m all wet now!” I splashed water from the pond on her.
Sophie’s eyes gleamed and she scooped me up. “We’d better get home before this gets out of hand, she laughed, taking me towards the comforting lights of our house.
I wiped a stubborn tear from my eye. Nine years ago, and I still remembered that day like it was yesterday. Will I still remember her, nine years from today? Will I remember the taste of her cooking, the exact color of her deep brown eyes? I feared I might not.
The breeze sent a current across the pond. The water lilies bobbed up and down, but stayed upright. It came to me, suddenly. “They’re my favorite because even with no ground to put their roots in, only water to float in, they still grow.” Sophie had said
Her death had torn my roots from the ground, that was certain. Alexandra’s too. We were free floating, unanchored by the loss of Sophie. But the water lilies managed to grow even without their roots in the soil. Was that what I had to do? To stop hiding inside myself and move on, keep growing?
Easier said than done, I thought.
I got up with some effort and walked across the field to our house. The door creaked as I pushed it open. I walked into the living room, only to see Alexandra sitting on the sofa, a mug of coffee in her hands. For once she was sitting still, and it didn’t seem that she liked it. Her eyes, puffy from lack of sleep were staring blankly at the wall. She wasn’t putting on a show, and for the first time I realised how awful she looked. Her skin was pale, almost translucent, and drawn, her brown ponytail was messy, and her face had an almost scary hollowness to it, and it occured to me. She spent so much effort trying to be strong for me, never letting me see her weakness. I had to be strong for her too.
When she saw me come in, she hurriedly rearranged her face into its usual forced smile, her show of strength. It was clear she hadn’t wanted me to see her like this.
I sat beside her on the blue sofa.
“I miss her so much, mom,” I said, without warning.
Alexandra’s face contorted in surprise for a moment, then sadness. She put her arm around me. “Me too, sweetie. I loved her very much, you know.”
A silent tear leaked from her eye. Alexandra, who had always been a pillar of strength, who even at Sophie’s funeral had hidden her tears, was crying. Seeing her cry made my eyes well up too, and we both sat there silently weeping for several minutes.
She finally sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Enough of that. I still need to make dinner.” She got up, but I pulled her back.
“No mom, you’ve been overworking yourself. Let me make dinner tonight.”
Alexandra started to protest, but a sudden weariness came over her and she sank back onto the sofa. “
“Thank you darling, I think some rest is exactly what I need right now.”
I nodded. She needed time to herself to accept Sophie’s death, I knew. Her agreement was a good start. Resting was a good start.
I stood up and went to the kitchen. It would take time, I knew, but we would accept Sophie’s passing. Like the water lilies, we could keep on growing.