Authors: Sharon Sala
'I'm sorry Ms. O'Rourke, but your friend had to cancel your luncheon
appointment. She said to tell you that the school called. Her daughter is ill
and she had to go home. She tried to reach you at your office but you'd already
left. May I seat you at a table for one?"
Mary Faith O'Rourke shook her head. "No, thank you. I won't be
staying," she said softly, and walked out of The Mimosa without looking
It wasn't as if she'd wanted to come. For the past six years she hadn't
wanted to do anything but
and today was no
exception. Exactly six years ago today, her husband and child were killed in
front of her eyes.
Her friends worried about her, and in the back of her mind, she appreciated
their kindnesses and sin
. But they simply did
not understand. Oh, they knew what had happened, but they didn't know the
details or the guilt with which Mary lived. Yes, she had been standing in her
front yard when her husband had backed out of the driveway with their baby in
the car. And yes, she had heard, before she'd seen, the police car come
careening around the corner in pursuit of another vehicle. And yes, she had
yelled at Daniel-screaming for him to stop. But they didn't know that the
reason he'd been leaving the house was because they'd had a fight, or that the
last words they'd spoken to each other had been in anger. They would never
understand how insidious guilt was, or that she had tried so hard to die along
with them when the three cars had collided and then burst into flames. Watching
Daniel and their baby daughter die in that fire had destroyed her spirit.
Now, she was just waiting for her body to catch up.
She glanced at her watch. It was a whole hour before she had to be back at
work at the dress shop across town and since food was the farthest thought from
her mind, she started to wander the streets. It had been years since she'd been
in this part of Savannah, but her friend had been insistent, raving about the
renovations that had been done and the new businesses that had sprung up afterward.
Mary had to admit that the place looked good. Old cement had been removed from
the sidewalks, revealing a herringbone pathway of ancient, red bricks. Trees
lined the curbs on both sides of the street, laying down a wide swath of shade
for the shoppers who were on foot. Dainty trellises covered with climbing ivy
and bougainvillea partially hid the tiny alleys between the buildings, giving
the area an old-world appearance.
Mary walked and looked, but without really
. As she stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light,
she overheard the conversation between the two women in front of her. Three
children had gone missing from
no clues as to what had happened to them, Mary could only imagine the parents'
fears. She knew the meaning of loss and of mind-numbing fear, and she felt
guilt that she had prayed for the children's safe return without actually
believing it would happen. The truth was, Mary had lost her faith in God and
She continued to walk, absently window-shopping without interest in buying.
It wasn't until later when she stopped in front of a jewelry store to look at
the window display that she realized she was lost. Curious, rather than concerned,
she turned around, intent on searching for familiar landmarks, when the store
across the street caught her attention. The name over the doorway intrigued
her. Time After Time. But when she realized it was an antique shop, pain hit
her with the force of a fist to the gut, leaving her weak and motionless.
Before she and Daniel had married, antiquing had been one of their favorite
pastimes. She loved old cookbooks and tiny treasures that were often overlooked
by the true collectors. But that was back when they had still been happy, when
his family hadn't known she existed. She shuddered. God. How many times in the
past six years had she relived those last moments of their lives? Remembering
the fights was like being stabbed repeatedly in the heart, and always because
of the same thing.
His parents hated her, and she hadn't known how to make him understand. She
couldn't forget the sounds of her baby's shrieks, echoing above their own
shouts, and feeling the guilt of knowing that she was frightened by their anger
and harsh words. She had known Daniel was frustrated with every thing,
including her constant tears and her inability to get along with his family.
She had lived in fear that he would get fed up with her and leave, then knowing
if that happened that her world would come to an end. And it had happened, but
not as she'd expected. She had feared that he would leave her, but not that he
would die in the process.
A car sped past in front of her, shattering her concentration.
God… how much longer do I pay penance before you put me out of my misery?
As usual, she got no answer to the question. Weary all the way to her soul,
she started to turn away, barely missing a young boy on a bicycle as he came flying
around a corner. In reflex, she jumped off the curb to keep from being hit and
when she turned around, realized she was halfway across the street on her way
to the antique store.
Longing for a connection with the man that she'd loved and lost, she started
toward the store, hesitating only briefly as she reached the door. When she
stepped inside, she paused and took a deep breath.
The scent of well-oiled wood and ancient books mingled with the faint layer
of dust on the jumbled up counter. To a true antique buff, it was like waving
free money in front of an addicted gambler.
Telling herself she was a glutton for punishment, she let the door shut
behind her. As it did, a small bell jingled from somewhere overhead. At the
same moment, her gaze caught and held on the old man behind the counter.
She hadn't seen him at first, but when the bell sounded, he'd looked up and
the movement had caught her eye. He was tiny and stooped and looked as old as
the jumble of artifacts in the store. He had a tube of glue in one hand and a
pair of tweezers in the other. She could just see the corner of a picture frame
on the table in front of him and supposed he was trying to repair something
that had broken.
"I'm just looking," she said.
He nodded and then returned to his task. A slight shift of relief moved
through her when she realized he wasn't going to follow her around in the
store, trying for the hard-sell approach. She and
Daniel had always liked to browse on their own. Her nose wrinkled slightly
in reaction to the musty odors as she moved toward the back of the store. The
farther back she went, the more narrow the aisle became. Finally, she found
herself holding the skirt of her dress against her body to keep from sweeping
the dust off from an assortment of old tables and chairs. Despite her initial
nervousness in coming inside, she quickly lost herself in what Daniel used to
call her "search mode." She shopped from instinct rather than a skill
of knowing true antiques, and her purchases had always reflected that. She bought
because she liked a piece, rather than due to any value it might have. In all
those precious years with Daniel, her favorite purchase was still a small
fluted vase for which she'd paid the huge sum of fifty cents. It was barely big
enough to hold a single sprig of honeysuckle, but its fragility reminded her of
a kinder, gentler time and place. If she closed her eyes, she could still see
the laughter on his face when she'd crowed with delight at the find.
Determined to proceed, she jutted her chin and pushed past the dusty jumble
toward a single counter at the back of the room.
There, in the middle of the mess, was a small glass case filled with an
assortment of jewelry. The pad lock on the case was rusty, which went rather
well with the thick layer of dust on top of the glass. Determined to look
inside, she took out a tissue and gave the dust a quick swipe. The moment she
did, she knew she wanted to see more.
She turned and called out to the old man up front. "Sir…I'd like to see
the jewelry inside this case. Do you have the key?"
She heard the sound of chair legs scooting against wood and then the squeak
of a drawer opening and closing. A few seconds later, the old fellow emerged
and started toward her.
Mary tried not to stare, but there was something so compelling about his
face that she couldn't look away. It was a mixture of age and grief and a
knowing that comes with having outlived too many friends and family.
He stepped past her without speaking, removed the tiny padlock with
surprising ease, then opened the case. For a moment, their gazes met and Mary
felt as if someone had caressed her face. But then he blinked and the notion
"Thank you," she said. "I'm interested in those rings. Do you
He walked away without bothering to comment and Mary shrugged. It was
obvious from the dusty contents of the store that he didn't sell much, and if
his behavior with her was normal, it was a wonder someone hadn't stolen him
She dug into the display, soon realizing that most of it was junk, although
the rings were another matter. Eagerly, she glanced through the lot, fingering
them gently and sorting through the array, trying on one, then another. A few
minutes later, convinced she'd seen all there was to see, she started to close
the case when she noticed a tattered piece of lace stuffed in the corner of the
case. Curious, she picked it up, then gasped in delight when a single ring
tumbled out in her hand.
The band was silver, etched with an elaborate series of engravings that were
reminiscent of a twining ivy and set with a single, clear blue stone. Blue
topaz, she thought, and turned it toward the weak, yellow glow from the single
bulb hanging from the ceiling. The light caught and held in the stone like an
ember coming to life. She turned it in her hand, admiring the workmanship and
wondering what it cost when she realized there was an inscription within. She
squinted, trying to read the elaborate script and only with some effort finally
discerned what was there.
I promise you forever.
Her eyes filled with tears. There was no forever. Thinking of the man who'd
first given this ring to his love, she clutched it in her fist and then closed
her eyes. Daniel's face slid through her mind and without hesitation, she
slipped the ring on her finger. Just because it was there.
Just because the promise was forever. Within seconds, her finger began to
burn. She jerked back in shock and yanked at the ring, trying to pull it off
but it wouldn't come. She cried out, both in fear and in pain. As she did, the
little old man suddenly appeared before her.
"Oh my God…oh my God…Sir, please help me. I can't get this-"
He smiled and the pain disappeared. Again she felt as if someone had just
kissed the side of her face. She held up her hand, but the old man just nodded,
as if in understanding. Although his lips never moved, Mary thought she heard
him tell her it would be all right. Before she could argue, a sudden wave of
dizziness sent her reaching for a dusty old highboy to steady herself.
"I don't feel so good," she muttered, and knew she should have
eaten lunch after all.
A faint shift in the air almost took her breath away, then the pressure in
the room began to expand. Even though she knew she was standing still, it felt
as if she'd started to turn. Around…and around… and around…the chairs and the
tables, the dusty pictures on the wall began to move backward, like a carousel
in reverse. Everything in the room began to turn, taking Mary with it. She
wanted to close her eyes, but she was afraid if she did she'd fall off the
world. The old man's image began to waver before her eyes, as if he'd suddenly
lost substance. A sudden chill filled the air, and panic struck Mary dumb as
the old man disappeared. She stared in disbelief at the place where he had been
The scent of dust and camphor was thick around her as was another, less
potent, but still definable scent: the scent of lavender and dried rose petals.
She heard crying and laughing, then a single, thin high pitched wail and knew
it was her own. Something within her snapped and she felt herself falling. When
she came to, she was standing at her kitchen sink. The smell of baby formula
was thick in her nose and she could hear her baby crying in the next room.
Oh God… not this. Not again.
Gritting her teeth, she felt herself turn, knowing that Daniel would be
standing in the doorway as he'd been before-looking at her as if she was a
stranger and not the woman he'd made a child with-not the woman he'd taken as
his wife. She heard herself saying the same words and wanted to scream. She
knew what she would say because she'd heard it every night for the past six
years. Was this her punishment for still being alive when everyone she loved
was dead? Was she doomed to replay her last moments with Daniel and Hope forever?
Would this nightmare never stop?
"Isn't her bottle ready yet?" Daniel asked. Mary turned toward the
sink where the bottle was warming in a pan of hot water. She yanked it out,
shook a few drops on her wrist to test for temperature and started past him when
he stepped in her way. "I'll do it," he said, and took the bottle out
of her hands.
Mary felt his rejection as plainly as if he'd slapped her in the face. She
turned and stared back at the room. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and there
was a pile of laundry in the floor just inside the laundry room in need of
washing. The scent of burned bacon from breakfast was still strong in the air,
and she needed to mop the floor. In the next room, she heard the low rumble of
Daniel's voice as he soothed their baby girl, then heard Hope's satisfied
gurgle as she began feeding from her bottle. Her shoulders slumped. She was a
failure. Everything she tried to do went wrong.