Short story: A Walk in the Park

Carlin Reyen

The following short story, written by Carlin Reyen, received first place in the GFWC Tri-Cities Women’s Club Youth Poetry and Short Story Contest and will advance for further judging at the regional level.

An elderly woman sits alone at a sparse kitchen table. It is dusk, and two candles protrude from the cake before her, illuminating her face. Wispy white feathers frame a withered face, one that would normally be filled with joy.

But on this day, Rosie Vaughan’s grin had slipped from her face as the hours passed. She wondered where her family was. Checking her watch for what must have been the hundredth time that day, she sighed. Miffed, Rosie wearily placed the uneaten cake back in the refrigerator and hobbled into bed. Rosie nudged Bruno, her labrador retriever, aside, and collapsed into her favorite pillow. She had barely pulled the quilt, a gift from her only child, Robyn, over her body before her eyelids began to droop closed. Her final thoughts were of Robyn, and of her grandchildren, Sophie and Michael. I can’t stay mad at them, she decided. They’re probably just really busy, as usual. I’m sure they’ll visit tomorrow. With that, she drifted into a peaceful slumber.

Rosie awoke to the sound of birds chirping. What a beautiful morning! Rosie thought. Perfect for a walk. She jumped out of bed, as easily as a spry octogenarian can do, deciding to eat breakfast after her walk. Maybe by then, her family would have arrived for her birthday. Rosie whistled for Bruno. Bruno loved morning walks, and Rosie knew he would be excited. But there was no response. Frowning, Rosie walked out of her room to search for him, completely oblivious to the elderly woman with wispy white hair asleep in her bed.

“Bruno!” Rosie called down the dark hallway. Finally, she reached the kitchen. Underneath the table, Bruno quivered. His dark eyes seemed timid. “Bruno! There you are! Come on! Enough of this nonsense,” Rosie demanded impatiently. Bruno refused to move, barking uncharacteristically. The sound cut Rosie’s heart.“Fine,” Rosie huffed. “I’ll just go alone.” She exited the house, slamming the door. At the sound, Bruno whimpered, shaken up.

Rosie crossed Sycamore Avenue, heading toward Main Street Park. The park would be the perfect place to clear her head. As Rosie passed by her friend Fred Allen’s house, she saw him outside. Rosie smiled and waved. Fred had always been an amiable neighbor. But he stared right through her and kept working on his yard, not even stopping for a quick hello. How strange, thought Rosie. Well, it is early in the morning. Maybe he’s not in the mood to talk right now. I’ll stop by later. Reaching Main Street, Rosie walked past the faded park sign. Now in desperate need of a good scrub, the sign had brought Rosie joy from the time she was a child. She had always loved the rain, and she hoped it would come soon and wash away the muck. She recalled passing the sign as a little girl.

***

“M-a-i-n spells Main,” sang Rosie, precocious at four years old.  

“Very good!” her mother beamed, her pride brighter than the sun.

***

Rosie remembered small details better than anything else: the blurring flashes of color that accompanied the children on the playground, the itch of a white sundress her mother insisted she wear, much to her chagrin, and the whir of the carousel as the horses raced.

Now, Rosie approached the carousel and peered through the gate. The bass drum thumped over the carousel music as giggling children bobbed up and down. As the carousel circled through again, Rosie glimpsed her favorite horse. She stared at its blue saddle as another memory came flooding back to her.

***

“Is this spot taken?” Rosie glanced up to see a familiar face. Joe Vaughan peered out at her from behind thick-rimmed glasses, his face sporting a perpetual grin. “No,” Rosie replied shyly. Earnest, Joe slid onto the carousel horse next to Rocket. Rosie had thought Joe was cute for a while now but never knew if he was interested or just being friendly. As she and Joe chatted, Rosie couldn’t help but feel a connection to this boy. Butterflies flitted about in her stomach. “You look really pretty today,” Joe said suddenly, and Rosie shyly smiled at him. He held out his hand, and she slipped her fingers between his naturally, almost as if they had held hands this way forever.

***

Rosie had held Joe’s hand again for the last time about five years ago. On that day, it was so hard to let go. It was cancer, the doctors said. Inoperable. Rosie never had time to fully process what was happening to Joe before her husband was taken from her. Suddenly overcome with emotion, Rosie blinked back tears. Walking briskly, she headed for the other end of the park, hoping that the summer breeze would be enough to dry her eyes.

The path that had once been a welcome stretch for youthful legs now presented itself as a mountain for a slightly older body: daunting, but not impossible. Rosie concentrated on the steps she took. The rhythm of movement always helped to calm her down. As she reached the top of the hill, Rosie remembered the day Robyn had finally mastered riding a bike. Rosie and Joe had stood, cheering and snapping photographs, as Robyn confidently pedaled down the small hill, training wheels clattering all the way. What a good day that had been. Robyn’s excited hollers still reverberated in Rosie’s mind.

At the top of the hill, Rosie continued walking, enjoying the remnants of a happy memory. Suddenly, Rosie heard a sound that evoked different emotions: the hissing of running water. The river. Rosie froze. Even after all these years, the pain remained. Gingerly, she took a step closer, and a droplet of water splashed up onto her foot.

***

“Rosie! Rosie!” a small voice cried. Rosie glanced behind her and spotted her younger sister, Eva, giggling as she hopped from stone to stone, desperate to keep up. At eight years old, Rosie felt invincible. The roar of the rushing river did nothing to dissuade her. “Come on, Ev! Can’t keep up?” Rosie teased, noticing the lethargy in Eva’s movements.

***

Rosie didn’t have any memories of when Eva was born, but her mother claimed that from that day forward, they were inseparable. Rosie could recall games of hopscotch at the playground, Eva’s braids bouncing to the tune of “Miss Mary Mack.” If the weather was pleasant, Rosie and Eva walked to McCreery’s Ice Cream. Even a bystander could tell how much Eva had enjoyed her cone from the amount of ice cream that covered her face. Most of all, Eva’s infectious smile made an indelible impression upon Rosie. Though many memories had since faded, this one gnawed at Rosie, unable to be forgotten.

***

“Rosie!” she heard once more. But the tone of the voice shifted. Once playful, Eva’s cry now echoed trepidatiously. Glancing back, Rosie screamed.

***

She had tried to forget, but the memory of the inhuman shriek that emerged from her body sufficiently brought the trauma back.

***

The lurching water. The ashen look on her sister’s face. The way Eva’s arms clawed at the water, searching for something, anything, to latch onto. Rosie stood frozen, paralyzed with fear. Finally, she rushed towards her sister, wishing desperately that someone might hear her cries for help. Rosie cursed her mother for not teaching Eva the proper way to swim. By the time Rosie reached Eva, she was still. Terrified, Rosie yanked her sister’s lifeless body from the water and made futile attempts to resuscitate her. Suddenly, Rosie’s tears threatened to destroy her, just as the river had destroyed her only sister.

***

Over the years, the pain had dulled from a constant throb to an occasional pang. Rosie came to realize that nothing that had happened was her fault. She tried to live a life that Eva would be proud of, considering that Eva’s own had been stolen from her at such a young age in such a cruel twist of fate.

Overcome with swirling emotions, Rosie headed home. Despite the melancholic memories, Rosie felt invigorated from the exercise. It was almost time for lunch. Bruno would be pawing at his bowl, anxiously awaiting a taste of Rosie’s world-renowned meatloaf. The walk home felt quicker than it had that morning. Rosie busied her mind with thoughts of chores she would complete at home. Rosie’s daydreams were interrupted by the blaring siren of an ambulance careening down Sycamore Avenue. Oh god, Rosie thought. She willed the ambulance to turn down another street, as if she could save any of her neighbors from the pain of loss with a simple wish.

The ambulance screeched to a halt in front of 21 Sycamore Avenue. Alarmed, Rosie rushed up to her house and through the front door, which the medics had hastily left ajar. Inside the house, the first thing she noticed was the sound of weeping. She entered the living room to see Toby, Robyn’s husband, sitting on the sofa, hugging Michael and Sophie. “What’s wrong?” Rosie asked. “I’m right here-” The EMTs rounded the corner, carrying a stretcher, and suddenly Rosie understood. The uncharacteristic behavior Bruno displayed, Fred’s unfriendly greeting: they all made sense as Rosie laid eyes on the woman with the wispy white hair lying peacefully on the stretcher in front of her. With dismay, Rosie glanced down, wiggling her fingers vigorously. “Could I really be…?” she pondered. There was no way. How could I be dead? She didn’t dare speak the word aloud on the slim chance it wasn’t true. And yet, it made sense. “And I didn’t even realize,” Rosie laughed. “Typical Rosie.” When Rosie felt particularly baffled, she used humor to cope, and her current situation was a perfect example. Rosie knew all too well what it was like to experience loss, and she felt a sharp pang of sadness for her family.

Where is Robyn? Rosie wondered. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a trail of pawprints. Rosie followed them, opening the door and stepping out into the backyard. A hunched figure sat, obviously distraught, on the back step. Rosie inched closer, afraid of how her presence could affect the living and not wanting to traumatize her daughter any further. Robyn’s arms curled around Bruno as she sobbed into his fur. At the sight of her daughter, devastated and broken, Rosie willed herself with all her might to speak out loud, even if only for a moment. She just needed the chance to say goodbye to her only child. “Robyn! I’m here!” Rosie croaked. “Robyn, honey. Oh, please, if I could just say one thing…” The words wouldn’t, couldn’t reach Robyn, and both mother and daughter, though only feet apart, succumbed to the loneliness that surrounded them.

Toby opened the back door, Michael and Sophie in tow. He sat down beside Robyn, allowing her to cry into his shoulders. Rosie moved towards her family, wanting more than anything to be able to reassure them. Standing over her daughter and granddaughter, Rosie shed a single tear. “Mom!” Sophie cried. “You felt that raindrop, right? It’s gotta be a sign from Grandma Rosie.” Robyn looked up in disbelief. “Don’t be silly, honey. There’s no rain.” And yet, all four of the people sitting on the stoop felt some sort of presence, and they were warmed by it, just as they had been by Rosie when she was alive. “Let’s go home,” said Toby. “Rosie would want us to keep living our lives.” The family slowly stood up and entered the house, Michael leading Bruno.

Devastated, Robyn stared off into the distance, searching for the strength to go on. Rosie willed her daughter to go into the house and keep living, to make memories like the ones Rosie had collected: some good, some bad, and all poignant and reminiscent of the wonderful life Rosie had had the pleasure of living. Slowly, Robyn walked away. “Goodbye,” Rosie wept as she watched her daughter leave, knowing that no one would ever hear her again.