* I haven't really tried writing short stories before. I had a dream last night and thought I would try to write it out as a story. It took a few turns as I let it flow out. You never know unless you try something new.*
Something happened that morning, something in the soft quiet, of which we were unaware.
The river flowed roughly that night, it had been raining all day, it wasn’t safe to cross. Adrian, the young boy with bright blond hair, was out too late and trying to get home. No one knows what happened once he stepped onto the bridge, but he was never seen again, not really.
In the following days, everyone became frantic, searching for him night and day. He was a boy that everyone knew, and everyone loved. His Mother was inconsolable, his Father, predictably, acted out his fear and worry through anger and acting a fool all over town.
When I heard the news, my heart broke, Adrian and I had a special bond. He would always come to my shop and help with anything I needed. He would deliver flowers and take orders and listen to the stories of the grieving customers. They seemed to want to tell him their stories, the loss of their loved ones overwhelming them. He was just a boy of 16, but you could see in him something that transcended his age, he had a very old soul.
On that fated day, he had stayed late in the store with me, we had been very busy and were cleaning up. There were cut flower stems all over the floor and supplies everywhere. It was quite late when we finally swept up the last bits of the days efforts and turned off the lights. I told Adrian I would drive him home and in his usual way, he said, “No Auntie, I will just skip across the bridge and be home, it’s not far, you know.” That boy loved to be out in nature, running through the trees, jumping over streams and chasing birds.
I kissed his forehead and thanked him for his help and off he went. I got in my car and drove the few blocks to my own home. My dreams that night were filled with images of angels flying by the river, there were hundreds of them, circling overhead. I couldn’t see what they were gathering for, but the sight was beautiful.
In the morning, I was woken up by the ringing of the phone. I was so deep in sleep that it took me a few minutes to understand what the sound was. When I answered I heard a voice choking over tears and trying to scream. I finally realized it was my sister but all I could understand in what she was saying was ‘Adrian’ and my heart stopped. I dropped the phone, quickly dressed and ran out to my car. When I got in the car, I saw a large white bird sitting on my fence, as I screeched the tires and sped away, he never moved.
It only took minutes to get to my sister’s house, but it seemed like an eternity. When I arrived, I ran up the front steps and stopped suddenly at the top. On the corner of the fence post was a giant white bird. I shook my head thinking it couldn’t possibly be the same bird and it just sat there, not moving, watching me. I noticed it had one very green eye and the other was coal black. I shook my head again and ran into the house.
It was chaos in the house, my sister flailing around the room, people everywhere. I kept trying to grab her wrists to quiet her down, so I could figure out what had happened. She was staring at me mumbling things I couldn’t understand, and Adrian’s father finally said, “he didn’t come home last night.” They had been divorced for a few years, but he lived close by and had come to pick him up to spend the day with him.
Immediately I felt a surge pass through my chest, ‘I should have driven him home!’ I couldn’t breathe for a moment and then exhaled hard and just hugged my sister. In the following hours, everything is a blur. Things were moving so fast, people coming and going, everyone trying to find Adrian. They focused their search on the river, the last place the boy had been seen.
I drove over to my shop, knowing I had a last-minute order to be delivered to a funeral that was happening that day. I knew after that, I could close up and help in the search for Adrian. I gathered the flowers and vases into the van and just as I shut the back door, something caught my eye. On the back fence, behind the shop was a large white bird. This time it wasn’t staring at me, it was looking off in the direction of the river. I started to walk toward it and it opened its wings and flew to a tree at the beginning of the river trail. I wanted to follow it, but I had to get these flowers to the cemetery. I shook my head to focus and got in the van.
I drove across town and pulled up to the cemetery entrance. The guard at the front saw me and pushed the button to open the gates. As I waited for the gate to open, something moved in the corner of my eye. I turned and saw that bird, it had to be the same one, as it landed on a headstone at the edge of the cemetery grounds. I heard the words, ‘what the….!’ come out of my mouth. The gates were now open, and the guard was waving me in.
I stepped on the gas and the van started moving. I hurriedly made my delivery. Trying not to rush as this poor man was laying his wife to rest but I wanted to see if I could find that bird. I finished up the delivery, gave my condolences and rushed back to the front of the cemetery. Dammit it all if he wasn’t still there. Sitting stock still, staring off in the direction of the river.
I turned the van toward the river and sped back across town. When I got there, the search party had just formed a straight line and had begun to walk up the river bank. They were all looking down and moving slowly, some had flashlights, some in bright orange vests. The rain had stopped hours ago and the water in the river had receded a bit and was flowing at its normal, gentle pace.
Adrian loved walking by the river. He loved the quiet and loved to walk alone singing songs he made up in his head. He also loved coming to help me at the shop, even though he was only 16, he seemed to understand how to console grieving souls. He would touch their hands softly and look into their eyes. He had beautiful green eyes and somehow seemed to almost hypnotize people as they looked back at him. He would hum some little tune he had made up and the person would smile. It was always a brief exchange and seldom even recognized but I watched him with so many of our customers that I saw it as a sort of ritual he performed at every funeral we attended. Something about him, though outwardly a happy young boy, was deeply sad. I always noticed it when he would begin his walk down the river trail, heading home, and he would start to sing.
Our town was small but there was a huge historical cemetery that people from all over would come to lay their loved ones to rest in. My shop was originally just a small flower shop in town but began to work solely for the cemetery many years ago. I loved helping people and being able to assist them with the details of the flowers and keeping their resting places beautiful was something I felt called to do. Being kind to someone who is grieving can change a person’s life.
When Adrian was very young, he would always come with me to the shop. He loved the flowers and knew all their names and could tell me everything about them by the time he was 5 or 6. His favorites were Daisies and Daffodils, representing innocence, purity and rebirth respectively. He told me the Daisy, also known as Bellis, according to Celtic mythology was used to cheer parents who were grieving the loss of a child. He told me that Daisies are made up of two flowers, the inner section called a disc floret and the outer petals, a ray floret and that they often are used to symbolize true love. They close their petals at night covering the inner sections and reopen each morning to begin a new day.
The Daffodil, he told me, symbolizes rebirth and is the first bloom to show itself after a long winter. The Latin name for Daffodil is, Narcissus, after the Greek God who was celebrated for his beauty but was also very arrogant. Some sources say while he was staring at his reflection nymphs transformed him into a narcissus flower to get revenge for how he treated them. Others think he drowned trying to capture his reflection, and the flowers growing along the riverbed were named after him. Some even liken the nodding heads of daffodil flowers to Narcissus bending down and gazing at his reflection. It is said if the flower blooms on New Year’s Day, you will have good luck for the whole year.
Adrian was a boy that lived in his head, a dreamer and I always thought of him more like an Aster. The Aster is a unique daisy-like wildflower that’s known for its star-shaped flower head. Aster meanings include love and wisdom. With a rich history in Greek mythology, it’s said that the aster was created by the tears of the Greek goddess, Astraea. One day, she was so upset by how few stars there were in the dark sky, that she began to cry. As she wept, her tears fell to the ground and turned into star-shaped aster flowers. Thus, the flower was named after her, with Aster meaning star. He always seemed like he knew something the rest of us didn’t.
I looked up suddenly and realized I had been walking along the river path for nearly an hour thinking about Adrian and the flowers. I had gone a long way down the trail and had lost sight of the search party. It was still early afternoon, so I just kept walking, looking up and down the riverbank for any clues, any traces of Adrian.
I kept walking and aside from branches and rocks and the occasional flower, there was nothing, no evidence of the missing boy. Those words…no evidence…why did they stand out in my mind?
Oh yes, I remember it now, there was a little girl that went missing here, down this same path years ago. As I recalled the story, I remembered that Adrian and the girl, what was her name…? Bella…no…Bellis, yes that’s it, had been friends. They were both about 7 at the time and had been inseparable. Her family lived next door to my sister and those two children spent every minute together since they were born, oddly enough on the same day.
I stopped suddenly shaken by the memory. The little girl, Bellis, had gone missing one evening and after an exhaustive search that went on for months, was never found. The family presumed her dead and a funeral was held. It suddenly flashed in my mind that her headstone was the one that damn bird was sitting on in the cemetery today. Although her body was never found, the family had a headstone placed at the edge of the cemetery facing the river. On the headstone was the inscription Bellis, April 1955 and below that etched in the stone, a set of wings.
After the funeral, Adrian grew quiet. He and Bellis had always been at the center of everything as they grew up, laughing and then running off together to play their secret games. I wondered for a moment about his love for Daisies and remembered what he had told me. Bellis…he never forgot her. I realized at that moment why he spent so much time down at the river. I don’t think he ever stopped looking for her.
With tears in my eyes, I continued searching. He must have fallen somewhere along the path. Maybe he had been hurt and couldn’t get himself home, surely, he had to be here somewhere, he had to be. I started to run, stumbling over the rocks and slipping through the mud. Faster and faster, breath coming hard, sweat starting to cover my face. “Adrian!” I called out, panic setting in and still running faster. I rounded a slight curve in the path and lost my footing, slipping down the embankment. I fell forward and landed in the mud, knocking the wind out of my chest. I noticed my watch as I looked up over my arms, 4:55, and then I saw at the edge of the river, a single daffodil, bent low over the water.
I couldn’t breathe for a moment, and just stared. There was nothing else around, no evidence, those words rang in my ears again. I don’t know why or how but, in some way, I just knew. We were never going to see Adrian again.
I began to yell for help, calling the search party to where I was and they all came running. They gathered around and helped me to my feet. They were all asking me questions but all I could do was point to the flower on the ground. No one understood what I was saying, and they eventually continued with the search thinking that I was simply distraught.
The search went on for days, weeks and months. With less and less to go on and no clues surfacing, my sister began to give up hope. She and her husband were together again as the grief had brought them close and she was pregnant. Time passed and there was a funeral for Adrian just as there had been for Bellis and I convinced my sister to place a headstone for him next to hers in the cemetery. The inscription read simply, Adrian, April 1971 and below that etched in stone a set of wings.
Time was passing and life moving on and on New Year’s Day, my sister gave birth to a son called Patrick. Everyone was coming back to life and I went for a walk down by the river. I missed Adrian so much, trying to continue my work at the shop and help the grieving souls but nothing could console my own grief. I walked that old familiar path and felt like I was not alone on that day. I talked out loud as if he was there, telling him of his new baby brother, telling him of the souls that had passed. Somehow, I knew that he knew them all by name. I began to feel a bit anxious as I came upon the spot on the path where I had fallen in the mud that day. I held my breath and as I turned the corner there it was. Leaning low over the melting ice of the river was a single daffodil watching its reflection in the water. Tears fell from eyes just as they had done that day.
Many years passed, and I began to grow weary of the flowers and the grief and the constancy of loss. I was working in the shop one day and heard the bell ring as the front door opened. Much to my great joy it was my nephew Patrick. He was grown now and had just graduated college with a degree in Botany and had been helping me at the shop for years. It was a late afternoon in April and he had brought me a bouquet of Asters. The very first time he came into the shop when he was about 6, he told me this was his favorite flower. He asked if we could go for a walk, he had some news to tell me.
We set off down the river trail. As a boy, he walked this path many times, he told me. No one ever found Adrian and he always wondered about his brother. He had grown up to be so much like Adrian, the same kind heart, same care for others. He said that he somehow had always just felt like part of him was missing. I looked at him, his bright green eyes sparkling in the afternoon sun.
We rounded the bend and were just about to come upon the corner and as we turned he said, “Auntie, I’ve fallen in love.” I hugged him and as I looked over his shoulder I saw that daffodil only this time it was leaning towards me as if looking back. As I let go of Patrick, I asked him the name of his love. His eyes sparkled again, and he said, “Daisy.”
I looked again and the daffodil that had been at the river’s edge for the last 20 years was gone. As I turned back to Patrick, I saw behind him sitting on the lowest branch of a tree, a large white bird with one green eye. It looked at me then spread its wings and flew off. As it passed a white feather fell at my feet. I picked it up, put it in my pocket and Patrick and I walked back to my shop.