A Photo in the Flowerbed

Contributor: Victoria Elizabeth

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The photo landed in the flowerbed, the tiny petals of the annuals embracing it among the HOA-approved red mulch. The elderly couple, frozen in their moment of happiness, hadn’t known that Death, patient as he was, waited in the shadows of their joy, anticipating the occasion to strike.
Four months after their fiftieth wedding anniversary, a stroke took the bounce, which had slowed with the years, from Mr. Nielson’s step in an instant. He laid in a coma for two weeks before his adult children finally overruled their grieving mother and pulled the plug.

She watched as the last artificially pumped breath escaped and the heart monitor went silent. Death stood and waited. The last remnants of fifty years of love drained from the room, leaving an empty body and an incomplete soul.

Life has a funny way of kicking you when you’re down. An example of this would be the pneumonia that set deep into Mrs. Nielson’s chest, which the doctors claimed was caused by her extended stay in the hospital, standing vigil over her husband. Death, though normally impartial, can become greedy when he senses opportunity. And, with three children arguing over who would cover the funeral expenses, Death decided he might as well claim the mother, too.

Their home on Oak Court had been warm, though about thirty years outdated, with Mrs. Nielson’s porcelain plate collection cluttering the tight halls. Her husband had continued to buy them for her every birthday, despite the fact that she had run out of places to put them nearly a decade before. It was amazing how loudly the noise reverberated as their children tore them from the plastered walls, dropping them haphazardly into the trashcan. The collectables of one are often the refuse of another; the majority of the Nielson’s memories were nothing more than clutter taking up precious space for the beneficiaries of the Nielson inheritance.

Customers walked into the white-shuttered home on Oak, fingers trailing on the antique furniture, little boys giggling at the lace doilies coating every surface. The estate sale had gone well, recouping more than three times the cost of the funerals. A single cardboard box remained with the memories of the former inhabitants, a stack of worn photo albums housing the moments frozen in time.

Ten tiny fingers thumbed through the yellowed pages, smudging the handwritten captions. They paused on a picture: Mr. and Mrs. Nielson, smiling broadly as they clinked their wine flutes together. Death watched as the little girl peeled the photo from the page, glue clinging to the edges, and stuffed it into her pocket. She returned to her parents’ side, watching as they purchased the flotsam and jetsam of the dead.

One day, their memories would end up in a box, unwanted. For sale to the highest bidder. Death watched the family leave with their purchases, content and at peace. There were still memories to make, champagne to toast, photos to take. Death could be patient. He would wait.

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Victoria Elizabeth Ann is a lifetime student of the arts, literature, and life as a whole. She is currently studying Creative Writing at Full Sail University and aspires to publish a novel in the near future.
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