Hey guys! All I’m going to say about this one is it’s about an old lady named Rose. And it’s another one that’s barely science fiction. And it’s shorty. That’s it. Here we go. Enjoy!
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Written and narrated by Rob Dircks
Rose Hatchard returned home, dead, in a decorative urn chosen by her cousin Fred, her only living relative.
Her ashes would remain in her home for just a short time, though, as the house had to go. Fred was selling it to cover some of Rose’s debts. But for the time being, he thought, old Rose could survey her domain, at peace, from the mantle in the living room. After that, he didn’t know what to do with her. He looked up and patted the small faux marble container. “Well, Rose. Though we didn’t get to know each other in life, it looks like you’ll be staying at my house from now on.”
But there was a catch.
Rose wasn’t in the urn.
What was in the urn? A couple of dogs, a few sticks of wood from an old shed, some dirt, and innumerable bug parts.
Rose wasn’t in the urn because she wasn’t dead.
Actually, that’s not entirely true either. The status of Rose’s life at the moment could be debated. By all outward appearances she was killed by an overdose of something she thought would help her phlebitis. It was a seed, the littlest little seed, bought last week at a corner produce stand in Chinatown. It promised to cure phlebitis, whooping cough, St. Anthony’s fire, intestinal colic, and countless other ailments that wouldn’t fit on the cardboard sign taped to the bin. All for the low price of ten dollars per seed.
It wasn’t supposed to work. The proprietor of the stand had been buying these exotic seeds that did absolutely nothing, harvested from the rambunoni fruit somewhere far off in Asia, on the cheap, and, like all the other grocers in Chinatowns around the world for decades, he passed them off as a miraculous catch-all remedy at a five-thousand percent markup. They didn’t sell well, but they didn’t take up much space on the counter, so as long as the occasional gullible tourist or desperate old lady forked over twenty dollars for a bag of two, they were very profitable. He always knew the seeds wouldn’t work, but at least they wouldn’t kill anyone.
He was wrong on both counts with Rose Hatchard.
She popped one like a pill one day later, with her nightly chamomile tea right before bed, and slept like a baby. And slept. And slept.
And didn’t wake up.
When they found her body two days later, the EMTs noticed that she didn’t smell like the typical dead-for-two-days shut-in. She actually smelled kind of sweet. And she had this huge smile plastered across her face. But she was dead as a doornail, no pulse, no reflexes, no pupil dilation, no nothing, so they did their thing and called the medical examiner, and he, in turn, processed Rose’s body as quickly as possible – he had tickets to the Mets game – and had her shipped off to Moody’s Funeral Home. He was in such a rush he didn’t even notice the tiny plastic bag still clutched in her fist, containing the other little seed.
Bob Moody, third generation funeral director, also had tickets to the very same Mets game, and so was not happy to see Rose when she arrived. He quickly rifled through her paperwork, expecting the worst, and sighed with relief. Thank God. No embalming. No wake. A simple cremation, or “burn and urn,” as he liked to call it. And the old lady’s cousin had already picked out a faux marble container from Moody’s website, which he had in stock in the back room. He was feeling so relieved, in fact, he grinned down at his new friend and said, “Now Rose, don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back with your box.”
He strolled – almost skipped – down the hall to the back room, humming. And when he returned, he stopped short, and gasped. And he dropped the faux marble urn, shattering it into a thousand pieces on the floor.
Rose was gone.
Bob’s brain raced with a million thoughts at once, but never once considered the simplest, and actual, explanation:
Rose had gotten up and walked out.
Instead, he looked around, absently, thinking he had walked into the wrong room. He retraced his steps, and retraced them again, and slowly realized someone must have stolen the body in the minutes he had been gone. He ran to the exit, looking for something, anything – a corpse-stealing getaway car? – and found nothing. He scoured the entire building, inside and out. Either he was going insane, or Rose Hatchard’s body had just disappeared.
After a few minutes, Bob began to weigh his options: call the medical examiner and explain… what? He had lost a body? There would be lawsuits. New York State would take away his license, maybe even throw him in jail. And the Moody’s name, that would be the worst – the irreparable damage to the Moody name.
No. His only option would be to do what, unbeknownst to him, generations of Moody’s before him had also done at least once, for various reasons, to protect the Moody name: take a walk to the to the ash pile out back, fill up another faux marble urn, and never say a word.
Meanwhile, Rose needed some clothes.
Her naked, seventy-eight-year-old body had never felt better, but a naked, seventy-eight-year-old body doesn’t exactly blend in two blocks down from the funeral home on Union Street. So she ducked into the shared driveway of one of the row houses, into the back yard, and hopped a couple of fences – she hadn’t hopped a fence in thirty years – until she found a clothesline with some jeans and a t-shirt.
Rose then made her way, barefoot, to Merrick Boulevard, and hailed a cab.
No, she wasn’t going to alert the authorities. She wasn’t going to tell anyone what had happened. Let them believe she was dead.
She had shed her old, miserable life.
It was time to live a new one.
Rose looked down at her hand, while the cab wound its way through Queens to her destination, down at the little bag with the little seed, wondering what she had done to deserve this miracle. The answer, which she would never know, was that she had done nothing to deserve it, that she was the random recipient of the only two seeds in the entire world from a new, randomly cross-bred species of Asian fruit, of which there was only one plant in existence. She would never know that this one plant was indistinguishable from the average rambunoni fruit plant, and that just two of its lonely seeds would ever make it to a corner produce stand in Chinatown. She would never know that these two seeds contained three amino acids, dihydroxyphenylalanine, carboxylicacide, and another, unknown, that when fused into one strand of DNA, allowed the regeneration of myelin sheaths and cellular aging reversal. As she looked into the cabbie’s mirror at her own face, noticing already the wrinkles fading, and the eyes growing whiter, she smiled at her own blissful ignorance. It didn’t matter what she’d never know.
It mattered what she did now.
At a red light on Highland Avenue, she bolted from the cab. She wished she had the money to pay, but the kind people of Queens didn’t hang their money out to dry on clotheslines, so she settled instead for the thrill of skipping a fare and running away. She laughed as she ran, feeling lighter than a feather and stronger than steel. She stopped for a moment to swipe a pair of ratty old flip-flops left outside a bodega, and then ran the rest of the way to Meadow Park.
At the entrance to the Meadow Park Nursing Home, she hesitated. She would have to reach back into her old life, just one more time.
At the front desk, the attendant didn’t even look up from her paperback. “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Ernie, please. Ernie Richards. Is he…?”
“Awake? Yeah. Room 313. You family?”
Rose looked into the mirror behind the attendant, and saw, to her amazement, that she now looked no older than fifty. “Oh dear. I’m his…ah… daughter.”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
“Ernest Thomas Richards was born on August 23, 1938. He served in the Vietnam War. His wife Arlene left him after I was born. Listen, do I have to get a manager?”
“Chill, lady. I was just asking. Nobody cares.” And she buzzed Rose through the little gate.
The story was partly true. His name was Ernest Thomas Richards. He did serve in the Vietnam War. And his wife Arlene did leave him, that witch. But there was no daughter. She wasn’t his daughter. She suddenly didn’t know what she was to him. Her hand shook as it turned the doorknob to Room 313.
The old man squinted at her. “Arlene? Are we going home?”
“I’m not Arlene. Arlene left you here after the diagnosis. A long time ago. But I’m bringing you home.”
“Who are you?”
She sat down in the chair next to his bed.
“I don’t know you. I don’t know you.” Then Ernie closed his eyes and stretched his head back, as if he was looking up to heaven. “But I knew a Rose once. I took her to a dance.”
She smiled. “Yes. Yes, you did.” And she took from her pocket the cigarette she lifted from the attendant’s purse downstairs, and ran it under Ernie’s nose.
Ernie noticed the smell, and breathed in deeply. “Ah, it was some night. We left early, and smoked cigarettes, and drank Jameson’s straight from the bottle, and we made love in my car. She was my first.”
“And you were mine. My only.”
He opened his eyes, confused, lifted her supple, smooth hand and held it next to his own, spotted and gray. “How could that be? You’re only a girl.”
She laughed. They had repeated this same conversation too many times to count, nearly every Friday for the past twenty years, but this time the part about her being a girl was almost true. Her hands were that of a young woman, thirty at most.
She leaned in and held Ernie’s face gently. “Are you ready to go?”
He nodded, and smiled that blank smile of someone who doesn’t really understand. But she smiled back, knowing that in three days he would understand again. She kissed him on the forehead, as she usually did, took the little bag from her pocket, placed the remaining little seed on Ernie’s tongue, and gave him a cup of water.
He raised the cup, in a toast. “Here’s to… hmmm… what do you think, Rose? What should we toast to?”