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Sunflowers and Smiles
Clare’s pink lips trembled as she thumbed through the collection of glossy photos in her quivering hands. Images of a gleeful couple flashed rapidly up at her, almost tauntingly, as picture after picture became imprinted painfully in her mind’s eye. Abruptly, she dropped the photos onto the ground beside her, as though burned by hot coal, and hugged herself tightly, rocking back and forth. Even as she shut her eyes, the images still found her, as though embossed on her inner eyelids—a swift slideshow of smiles, hugs and kisses. No more. No more photos. No more Arthur. No more…
Her eyes flew open, unveiling the glistening tears in her eyes that toppled over her cheeks, freely flowing down her face. Her lips turned scarlet as she bit them frantically, trying to restrain the raw, feral emotion within her. Giving in, Clare let loose an anguished howl, all the pent up emotions in her flaring out like wildfire in the spur of the moment. The sound of her cries on that scorching summer day chilled the hearts of unsuspecting passersby, who shivered and glanced startlingly at the window. After a moment’s pause, they reassured themselves euphemistically that it must’ve been a figment of their imagination and shook their heads, but hurrying home all the same.
Inside, Clare hiccupped hysterically, gasping for air. She swiped the back of her hand across her face, flattening her nose to one side, feeling like a frail, fragile piece of glass threatening to shatter to a million pieces with the lightest of breaths. Through the last few days, she had capped her emotions inside herself painstakingly, comforting others at the funeral, setting herself aside and putting on a brave, sad little smile to show the world, I’ll get pass this, somehow. Friends and family alike whispered, “Oh the poor little thing. She’s so brave and strong.” They had walked pass her on their way to comfort other loved ones, glancing at her admiringly for her will.
Angrily, Clare snatched a pillow and threw it against the wall with all the strength she could muster, only to have it fall meekly, inches away from the target. Brave? Strong? If only they could see her now, she thought bitterly. She sat there with her chest heaving, the sound of her heavy breaths echoing through the empty apartment. The apartment for two.
Gradually, her breathing calmed, replaced by a silence that rang tremendously in her ears. She perched there on the carpet, back hunched against the bed, in that same spot for hours on end. Her blank eyes never left the white wall in front of her, as her mind drifted elsewhere. The shadows danced around her as the sun retired from its shelf of clouds in the darkening sky and sank lazily to the horizon, streaking the sky pink and red. Then, with a last hurrah, the sun fell and all hints of sunlight were washed away as darkness swooshed in greedily to fill every nook and cranny of the apartment, which was illuminated only by a lone glow through the window, courtesy of the crescent moon.
The darkness cajoled Clare’s tired eyes closed little by little, until her heavy eyelids dropped, giving in. Her head slumped, as she succumbed to her fatigue, and she slipped into a deep slumber. The owls hooted serenely, and the stars came out twinkling from under the dark blanket of the night sky. Clare slept, her troubles eased away in the precious moments of peaceful sleep, and dreams consumed her.
Clare was scampering nimbly through a golden meadow, laughing, tickled by the murmuring sunflowers that bowed back and forth in the light breeze. A quick look back told her that he was hot on her heels, and she shrieked, giggling. Teasingly, she sang out, “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”
“The gingerbread man?” He hollered back, voice carried by the wind. “Good God, you’re awfully cute for a tiny, oven-baked man.”
“I am, aren’t I?” Clare whipped around and stuck her tongue cheekily at him with her hands placed sassily on her hips, only to realize her blunder as he whirled straight into her. Shouting with laughter, the pair tumbled to the ground in a rolling heap, and came to a stop under a majestic tree, which observed them condescendingly from high above. They laid side by side on the dirt clearing, chests heaving, drinking in the rustic summer day. Two plump chickadees trilled sweetly as they flew circles around each other, engaged in their playful romp in the air. A little smile graced Clare’s face as she watched them. Her hand found his, and they entwined their fingers together, never wanting to let go.
Clare tore her eyes from the chickadees, and gazed at the man lying beside her with sorrow in her sad, brown eyes.
“I miss you so much, Arthur.”
Arthur smiled at Clare fondly, reaching his hand out to brush a strand of hair out of her face. “Why? You know I’ll always be with you.”
Frustrated, Clare turned her face away from Arthur. “Stop joking around, Arthur! I don’t know that! Ever since you….you LEFT, I’ve been feeling more alone then ever. How can that possibly mean that you’re with me? As much as I want to believe that, I’m not so naïve and simple anymore to live by such a foolish fantasy!”
A long pause followed this outburst, the air ringing with the remnants of Clare’s voice, accompanied only by the faint sounds of a babbling brook and the sighing breeze. The chickadees had long since taken their flight, startled by the steady crescendo of Clare’s voice. Clare sighed and sat up, her shoulders slumped dejectedly. She looked down at her toes and whimsically wiggled them. Even her wiggling toes appeared sad and pitiful. Clare snorted in a very un-ladylike fashion and smothered her face with her hands, shaking her head. Then Arthur spoke.
“You have to let me go first.”
Clare snapped her head up, staring incredulously at Arthur, who was observing at the ceiling of branches and leaves above them pensively. “Excuse me?”
“Well, Clare,” Arthur looked at her, pondering, “Think about it. For the last week you’ve been mourning over my death, torturing only yourself. Now, that’s perfectly normal and expected, of course,” Clare raised her eyebrows at the implied narcissism. Arthur chuckled, shaking his head. He reached towards the side of the clearing and plucked a sunflower from the bountiful meadow and continued, “But you have to start slowly moving on now, or you’ll never be able to live without that lonely feeling in your heart. You have to let go of the fact that I’m gone, because until then, you won’t be able to let anything or anyone into your heart and mind. I can’t be there, until you make peace with yourself. Do you understand? You have to make room in your heart for happier things. Make room for a happier, how shall I say it….a happier connotation associated with me, and my name. I’m not the living human Arthur anymore. He’s gone, but I’m here,” He grinned sheepishly, twirling the sunflower in between his fingers, “Sort of like your own personal guardian angel.” Arthur reached up, and tucked the sunflower behind Clare’s ear. He caught Clare’s chin between his fingers and raised her head to face him. Clare’s chocolate eyes stared forlornly back at him.
“Now, smile for me, Clare. I gave you a sunflower. They’re your favorite flowers, aren’t they?”
Arthur looked expectantly at Clare. She stared adamantly right back, her lips refusing to budge from a stern, straight line. Arthur looked away, placing his palms on the ground. He tilted his head backwards, squinting at the sun winking through the leaves of the tree, his neck elongated like that of a giraffe. “What was it that you said you liked about sunflowers?”
Clare glanced inquisitively at Arthur.
“You said you liked sunflowers, because they never lose hope in the sun, right?”
Arthur tipped his head down and grinned at Clare, eyes twinkling.
Clare didn’t say anything, only raising her head to face the sun. She closed her eyes, and felt the warm caress of the sun’s rays against her cheeks. She exhaled deeply, breathing in the clean, crisp air, feeling her entire body relax and loosening up, as though soothed by Mother Nature herself. Then, Clare opened her eyes, and lifted the corners of her lips, cracking a weary smile, while a lone tear trickled down her face. Arthur ran his thumb over her cheek, flicking the teardrop away. He leaned over, and kissed Clare’s forehead affectionately.
“That’s my girl.”
He hugged Clare close to his body, and Clare closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry. She welcomed the warmth of Arthur’s arms and nodded off slowly to sleep once more.
The sun peeked in through the apartment window the next morning and shone brightly at the sight it saw. Clare was slumped in the exact same manner as the last time the sun had last taken a glimpse of her, except for two small, monumental things: a slight smile graced her face, and grasped tightly in her fingers was a yellow sunflower, which turned and bowed to greet the vibrant sun.