Brighter Than Before

An introspective work of fiction speaking to the potential joys gained in life when one is able to let go from hurt and move on…

by: Bruce Costello

Mary’s hands and fingers, he recalled telling her, were a perfect fit for his, but how it felt to hold them he could not remember. Her words, her touch, the taste of coffee on her lips — now eighteen years after her death — these things had become nothing more than flitting fragments.

“If your mother could’ve come tomorrow,” Terrence said to Poppy, who was looking at him curiously relaxing on her bed with her hands behind her head, “she’d have been so proud of you.”

“I believe Mum is still watching over us, Dad.”

Terrence nodded. 

His grief had dimmed over the years but had not entirely faded away. “Chronic low level depression,” his GP had called it, adding it was nothing serious, more like a kind of perpetual joylessness.

“Tell me again about that trick she did with her head. I know you’ve told me a thousand times before but I’d love to hear it again!” Poppy adjusted the pillow behind her neck. 

Terrence smiled. “Well, your mother had very long brown hair and she had a way of flicking her head forward so her hair cascaded over her head so that she looked like a mop. Then she’d poke her face out excaliming “peek a boo,” grinning like a Cheshire cat, and tickle you like crazy. The way you’d laugh and squeal, you’d just about wet yourself!” 

Poppy giggled. “Oh, I wish I could remember her, Dad!” 

“Your grandfather’s pet name for your mother was Mary Sunrise. He never got over what happened. Said the sun set on his life the day she died.” 

“I remember you telling me that,” Poppy said in a solemn tone. “And you’ve been my Dad and my Mum since I was three. As well as going to work every day, being a lawyer on top of fathering was no easy task.”

Terrence rubbed a hand across his balding head. “Couldn’t have done it without your Aunty Colleen’s help. It seems only yesterday that your mother died — and tomorrow you’re getting married.” 

“Do you think you could help me to go to sleep, Dad,” Poppy sighed, “for old time’s sake, the same way you used to when I was little and I was upset about something?”

“Okay, Sweetheart.” Terrence rubbed her brow, rhythmically, gently, humming softly. She smiled up at him for a full minute, wide awake, then just as she seemed about to say something, her eyelids began to flicker and suddenly she was asleep.

Leaning over Poppy from his chair beside her bed, Terrence touched her forehead with his lips, as he had done a thousand times before. 

A feeling of love too deep for words arose within him and overflowed the confines of his being in silence. 

After a while, Terrance crept from the room, switching out the light as he left. He made a cup of coffee and took it into the lounge, where he eased himself onto a reclining chair and closed his eyes.

Twenty years! Where had they gone? Terrance thought. A knock at the door. A policewoman. “I regret to inform you…knocked off her bicycle…died instantly. Can we call anybody for you, Sir?” The rest of the night a blur. The next week a stream of visitors. Flowers and cakes. Hugs and tears. Must make arrangements. The funeral. Three year old Poppy…running from room to room…clutching a teddy…looking for Mummy. Colleen looking after Poppy while Terrence was at work…“the least I can do for my sister’s child.”

Colleen…her pale blue eyes, kind heart. Left the convent. Stopped talking about God. Retained her faith. Home and heart open to troubled and hungry people. Visiting the sick, the dying and the grieving. Flowers from her own garden.

Me, the family lawyer. Other peoples’ lives…tragic…some downright ridiculous…distressed people…all day long…weeping. Dispensing legal advice…Each night coming home to Poppy. Endless hugs. Play time. Blocking out the rest of the world. Reading stories. Playing games. Laughing. Cuddling. Watching cartoons.

So many years…

“A credit to you,” they all said. “Poppy’s such a sweetie, so well-mannered, so bright. You must be proud of her.” Then one day…Poppy is seventeen. Straight talk from Colleen: “She dotes on you, Terrence, but Poppy’s a young woman now, you need to back off, give her room to grow, to become who she is. She needs to get out more, spend more time with friends, and so do you. Time for you to move on and stop using your daughter as a crutch.” 

Wow.

Poppy meets a man. Seven years older. Prim and proper. They fall in love. He is training to be a minister. They get engaged. Now, getting married…tomorrow.

The coffee slowly spilled from the tilted cup in Terrance’s hand. He knew he was falling asleep but was captivated by the scene forming before his eyes.

Poppy and her husband are cycling. Careening along a twisting track, then speeding through a narrow mountain pass with rocks falling around them. Up a steep incline, her husband is struggling for breath while Poppy races on ahead and the higher she climbs, the faster she goes. Her hair grows longer until she resembles her mother, laughing, oozing confidence and strength. And someone else appears, like an angel…she looks like Colleen…face shining…clapping and laughing…

The phone rang, startling Terrence from his dream. 

It was Colleen. “Hello. Just wondering how you’re feeling about Poppy getting married tomorrow? Thought maybe you’d like to talk about it. It’s a big deal for a father, to be sure. Wondering how you’re coping?”

“Kind of okay. I’m ready to move on,” Terrence heard himself say, feeling out of character, shy and awkward, like a boy on his first date. “And, after the wedding’s over, I’d like to take you out to dinner. A small token of thanks and to mark the occasion — for being there for us.”

“Oh my, that’d be lovely,” Colleen said, the words slipping softly from her lips.

The immensity of the night sky. Stars and moon. Some of the lights, probably planets. All of it spreading into infinity. Hard to grasp that concept. There has to be a place to begin and a place to finish. Eternity? They say the world existed before time began but how can that be? What will be after the End? 

The moon is large and low. The moon, the same moon gazed upon by countless others over the millenia. William Shakespeare. Jesus Christ. Julius Caesar. Shepherds and mariners. Poets and lovers. What a wondrous universe. Unthinkable dimensions. Everything I’ve learned about life. The books I’ve read. The things I’ve done. The people I’ve known. The love I’ve felt. What will become of all of that when I’ve gone? What happens when we die? What’s it all about? Who can a man talk to about such things? We are all alone with ourselves. And the shock, yes, the trauma, of Poppy and her husband, standing in front of me, holding hands, “God wants us to get married, Dad. We have prayed about it. We are certain. We love each other.”

Love? Really? Poppy loves me because I’m her father – I get that…but how can she love this man? He’s such a plonker. But she does. So strange. And how come Mary loved me the way she used to? But she did. And Colleen…she just seems to love everybody. Colleen…ah yes, Colleen.

The moon vanished, but its luminescence lingered, glistening through the clouds. Then the clouds parted and the moon reappeared, it seemed to Terrence, brighter than before. 

A picture arose in his mind of Colleen’s hands stretching towards his across a white table cloth, her face glowing under the chandelier and her eyes focused softly on him, patiently waiting to hear whatever it was making his hands tremble, as no doubt they would, from what he wanted to say.

 

In 2010, New Zealander Bruce Costello retired from the city of Dunedin to the seaside village of Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group and took up writing as a pastime. Since then he has had 140 short story successes — publications in literary journals, anthologies and popular magazines, and contest places and wins.

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