Calendula

It’s raining.

Like it has been every day since the last time that I saw him; a heavy drizzle of icy droplets streaming from the night sky, enough to seep into your bones and never thaw. Enough to keep you glued to the windowsill, a sheet of chilled glass and stained fingerprints separating you from the rest of the world. An excuse to leave the earth behind.

I lean and press my face to the cool glass, peering outside. Just beyond the gardens of my house, barely visible in the shadows of the cool Italian night, is the small courtyard where I had met him only weeks before. I had been reading by candlelight in the early hours of the morning when he saw me, noticing the glimmer on his way to work.

“Is there a reason you’re out so early only to read, Miss Dolores?” The voice came out of nowhere, startling me. My head snapped up, eyes fixing on a tall man with light hair standing before me. Cheeks reddening with embarrassment, I shook my head no and quickly closed the book.

“Just pleasure reading,” I replied in a small voice, flushing a deep pink in the dim light. He raised an eyebrow, puzzled, so I quickly explained, “My mother doesn’t like me to read when she needs my help with housework…actually, she doesn’t really like me to do much at all. How do you know my name?”

“I’ve seen you around the town before…do you do this very often?”

My cheeks burned, but there was no sense in lying. “Every night.” I smiled to myself, glancing up at the clear sky. “It’s never rained once since I started.”

Just then, the first crack of daylight broke the Venice sky, illuminating his clear blue eyes that intently watched my face. A nightingale, whose haunting song had been drifting through the dark air, suddenly went silent. He smiled widely, teeth flashing in the glow. “Allow me to join you sometime.”
I press my fingers to my temples and exhale heavily, still staring at the courtyard. A shiver runs down my spine as I notice a dim, flickering light glowing among the trees.

With a sharp intake of breath, I whirl around and go to my dresser, opening the last drawer and gently lifting a withered flower into my palms. A few of its delicate golden petals are missing, and the faded stem, once a vivid emerald, sags pathetically between my fingers. Instantly the memory comes flooding back: standing in the courtyard with him after countless nights of laughter, our fingers intertwined, as he first picked the flower for me.

“Dolores.”
I stopped in mid-laugh at the sudden seriousness of his tone. Tilting my head, I fixed him with a confused stare. We waited in silence for a few moments while the nightingale hummed quietly in the background.
He bent to the ground. “I want you to have this,” he murmured, plucking up a beautiful pot marigold and pressing it into my hands.

I gazed in awe at the flower, its soft petals gleaming a brilliant gold. I lifted my head. “But why?”

He folded my fingers over the flower. “I want you to remember me,” he said, glancing up at the slightly pink sky, just beginning to lighten. As if on cue, the nightingale’s song cut off mid-note.
The air suddenly felt cold and hostile. I stared at him, my hands trembling. “To remember something it has to be gone,” I said carefully, drawing back.

His eyes flashed. “Never,” he promised, and pulling me back into his arms, we began to sway to the memory of the bird’s quiet song.
The reflection of the light flickers weakly in my empty eyes. Although the chilling rain patters on, I take my sweater and wrap it around me, heading quickly out the back door into the early morning darkness.

My heart pounds powerfully in my chest as I cut through the brush and nearly sprint to where a lone candle rests, propped on our old reading bench. Instantly my mind hurtles into the past; back to all those nights when the nightingale seemed to cry for me louder than ever and I had waited until the candle’s wax had all melted away for him but he never came, and he never came again.
Under the candle is a paper with an Italian army stamp in the corner, addressed in messy scrawl to a Miss Dolores Portatore, with an elegant red and green pattern printed along the side. A bright pot marigold, healthy and glowing, rests beside it. I gently lift the flower and bring it close to my chest, my eyes scanning the note. It contains only one sentence.
And so I sit in the icy stillness of the night until the last of the wax has burned away, listening to the quiet nightingale’s song encircle me until the daylight returns to silence it once more.





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