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My body remained stagnant, whist my mind raced.
Delicate whispers caressed my ears, and sailed ahead. The fragile leaves rustled as the whispers were carried between them by a gentle breeze, as if the mumbled words separated the foliage on command. The water droplets glistened as their host surface were shook subtly by the ripples of the vines.
The ghostly sounds prompted me to follow them behind the botanic curtain of the willow tree, but my body stood unmoving.
Something stopped me from taking the first few steps toward. Fear, uncertainty, and an unwillingness to accept my fate bubbled in the cauldron of my mind.
More and more did I experience a gentle pressure on my back to progress forward as the whispers intensified. Though I felt restrained by my thoughts, my mind was blank. I could not picture what was preventing me, like heavy chains, from the opportunity to fix everything.
I stared at the leaves of the willow tree, imagining what lay behind the screen.
“I can’t do this” I exhaled quietly.
Moving eventually, I took a step back.
A cold hand suddenly embraced mine, growing tighter as our fingers intertwined.
My Mother stood by my side, and I watched her face as she stared at the tree.
An overwhelming sense of grief made it harder to deceive myself one last time. She was dead. She wasn’t there, physically, just a figment of my imagination. I just had to convince myself of that, all over again.
Without a word, she reassured me that this was the path I was destined to walk. The thought of her presence was enough to inspire a confidence in moving towards it. We took steps slowly in tandem.
I knew my time with her was limited as the curtain grew closer. Once we entered, I was on my own again. I didn’t know what waited for me on the other side, but something told me it wasn’t her. I thought I had developed enough strength to accept that, but as we drew closer my pace slowed.
“Please” I begged. I stopped, and grabbed her hand with both of mine. Squeezing my eyes shut, my breathing became labored in an attempt to control the tears. My throat was choking on everything I wanted to say before she left, and my heart was knocking against my chest uncontrollably. My breath soon escaped me, and forced me onto my knees.
I lowered my head, still clinging to her icy hand.
My fear was not for what was beyond those leaves, but what wasn’t.
My arms were lowered by hers as she knelt down in front of me.
Though the frosty mist of death lingered, the touch of her soft hands caressed my cheeks. Holding my face gently for a moment longer, she raised my head so I was looking straight at her.
I tried to fight the emotion, annoyed that my last look at her would be obstructed by tears.
Before, I could always tell what she was feeling by looking at her eyes though she would often try to hide it.
Staring into them now, I struggled. I had never seen them so serene, so calm. There was no hint of anything else, no negative feelings, no worry or sadness. Set off by the paleness of her porcelain skin, they sparkled a bright blue I hadn’t ever noticed before.
My hand rose to hold her face, but all that occupied my palm was a sharp frost.
“I am always with you” her voice chimed, a ghostly rendition of the one that used to greet me. Her words echoed in the whispers that suddenly gathered around us. A hundred times did they repeat her, but I was scared to believe it.
My mouth opened, but nothing escaped.
Instead, I nestled my cheeks further into her bitter grip and closed my eyes.
“Listen” again her voice sang in chorus with the soft, floating murmurs.
An easy breeze circled around us both, stirring the fallen leaves that brushed against one another. The green blades that clung to the hanging vines of the willow danced gracefully with the tame gust, as did the rest of the surrounding foliage. The orchestra of tranquil sighs hummed to the fragile tune of our surroundings, and my mother’s sober words led the choir.
A subtle pressure beneath my chin stood me up straight.
I opened my eyes, confused and distracted. My mother was once again standing by my side, staring straight ahead. Again I felt her hand in mine.
Inhaling deeply, I walked with her.
Reaching out to move the vines, my breaths grew shorter and quicker. A subtle squeeze of my hand encouraged me to push through.
With one hand, I separated the curtain. With the other, I quickly shielded my eyes from the sudden burst of blinding light.