Cece saw her neighbor coming and flinched. Every time they met on the pavement, Batty Lady would throw out the same bright greeting, “May your night be full of smiles.” As their paths crossed, her old lady eyes were already looking past Cece, focused on something else. Perhaps she repeated the same mantra to cats or garden flowers. Night-smiles, everyone! Cece could have throttled her.
Forget smiles. Since Tristan’s death, she’d clung to memories. Photos stared back at her. Objects gathered dust. The smell of her husband’s clothes had long since vanished. Her eyes prickled and she turned to go home.
Well, not home. An empty apartment.
Tristan’s towel still lay draped over the sofa. They’d given him a beach farewell. Many had brought flowers. Slim and tanned, wearing light, transparent cotton, the women had stood silent, the men beside them uncharacteristically silent. A brother, a sister (whose, she couldn’t even remember now) said something inane. Cece had opened the urn containing Tristan’s ashes, walked into the receding wave and emptied the urn into the sea. The sand had felt gritty against the soles of her feet.
Now, months later, she wished she could have done more. Dammit, she sold paintings. Art had been her life. Why hadn’t she made something to cast into the waters? Some artist she’d turned out to be! Those pathetic floral tributes. Even their friends had had more imagination. One or two had brought long stemmed roses, and frangipani. Yes, she remembered cream, pink, even orange frangipani petals. The cool, exotic perfume always conjured up idyllic beaches, blue skies and white sand. Not death. Not ashes.
Cece’s throat constricted. The world’s bereaved had always cast their wreaths into the sea. Taken altogether, piled one on top of the other, they’d make a knockout floral tribute. She grimaced. Like the sea knew, or cared.
She jumped up and strode outside. To her right, brilliant red bougainvillea spilled over Batty Lady’s fence. With a vicious twist she broke off a few spikes and walked down to the sea. The setting sun painted the water all shades of orange and blue, and an evening breeze ruffled the waves. Cece strode into the water. Frothy wavelets broke round her ankles as she flung the bougainvillea into the sea.
The beautiful, calm, pitiless sea didn’t know or care. She turned to go.
An overpowering perfume enveloped her. Cece swung round.
A mountain of plaited roses, carnations, lilies and magnolias floated on the calm waters, their reflection shivering in the fading light. Every flower ever cast into the sea. All the wreaths the world had ever seen.
She blinked, and they were gone. Only her bougainvillea rode the waters.
Cece burst into tears. The sea hadn’t forgotten, after all. A breeze ruffled her hair as she took the long way home. Stepping inside the apartment, Cece gave a tentative smile.