Illusions of Roses

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A white girl living in South Africa with her wealthy father after the death of her mother. The dad is very distant and shows no emotion. He works all the time. The story is about the relationship between the father and daughter after the mother's passing. It's about how they must join together to overcome it.

Submitted: January 21, 2008

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Submitted: January 21, 2008

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Prologue 

His face wore the most wistful expression I'd ever seen.  His eyes were despondent with tears of loss dripping down below his lashes.  No words came from his mouth. He blankly stared at me for what seemed the longest time.  It looked like he was trying to form sentences in his head, but he couldn't build up the strength to push them out.  I didn't say anything, mainly because I didn't know what to say. All I knew was that something was tearing apart my dad inside--something so strong, so deep, so powerful, that this most verbose of men man couldn't form a single word. The last thing I wanted was to agitate or discourage him from what he was about to tell me, so I just kept looking into his brown eyes, waiting . . .

He broke eye contact and turned his back to me. He gazed out the bay window onto the ocean.  "Only in South Africa could you get such clear blue waters that reflect the sky . . . eternal sunshine and lush green meadows . . . and the soft golden sand that flows into the sea.  I could never leave this place with all its beauty.  This country is my home.  I met your mother here, and I've built myself a life here having you.  I used to think this place would always protect me, that as long as I lived here and remained a good man, nothing would ever hurt me . . . or my family.  But it did, Lila, it did . . . what happened here has caused me more pain than anything I have ever experienced . . . " he said before his voice trailed away.

"Papa" I said, feeling lost, "What happened here? What pain are you talking about?" He turned in my direction and started pacing, never taking his eyes away from my face.  "You remind me so much of your mother. The way your hair is long, golden, and wavy. . . the very color of your eyes and how hopeful and joyous they are every time I look into them," he said, his voice cracking.  "Please, Papa, tell me what's going on. Why do you keep mentioning Mother?" I asked, my heart rushing with fast beats. The ambiance of the room was off; I could tell something was very wrong. My dad stood in front of me, now still. I could tell that he was trying with all his strength to look at me and not turn his back. "There is no easy way around this, no fast short cut or a route of less pain. You would find out eventually, as each passing day turns into night. So I'm going to tell you now, and I hope to god you will not feel the agony I do. This afternoon, while you were at school, your mother went to the street market to buy fresh fruit to support the locals.  A man tried to drag away the lady who was selling to your Mama, to rape her. For what reason I don’t know, there is none good enough. Your mother, being the courageous woman she was, tried to interfere . . . she tried to save the lady. And she did, but . . ." he sobbed. He couldn't continue. I'd never seen my father cry before, but he just had to go on. "But... what?! You mentioned mama in past tense . . . where is she?! What happened to her?!” I screamed. 

“Papa, you have to tell me!!!" I already knew the answer; I just didn't want to admit it. He opened his mouth, heaving with grief.  "In her struggle with the man, he shot her. The man shot your mother in her attempt to do the world good. And she's gone now, Lila, she's gone." He was finished, not able to look at me. He put his head in his hands and sat down, his back facing me. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest and cut into six billion parts; each piece given to every soul on this earth to stomp on and tear at forever. Once I closed my eyes, trying to avoid the reality, I never wanted to open them again. I wrapped my arms around my knees and wept. My father embraced me in his warm arms. The room was silent. No words were said. My world shrank down to my dad and I, cuddled together on the floor, keeping each other safe.

That would be the last time for a long time to come that my father and I grieved for my mother together, as father and daughter.

Illusions of Roses

The roses weren't beautiful. All they ever did was sit there, occasionally moving with the wind. I used to see them as a beautiful red, the color of my mother's lips. But now I don't see any vibrancy to them at all. The red no longer stood out. They just sat there, dull and useless, unharmed by anything, even the death of the woman who used to water them. I moved my eyes away from the petals and out onto the horizon; the sun was setting over the sea. I saw my reflection in the window. My eyes were watering, but no tears fell.  I think my eyes had wearied of producing them. My skin was like a porcelain doll’s, washed out and pale. My golden hair was long and tousled in loose waves. My blue eyes were solemnly glistening in the tint of the window glass; I looked straight into them, and saw the same thing I'd seen since my mother's death: a girl who had lost all enjoyment of life.

I got up from the window seat and walked down the long narrow hallway to the library. I looked at the many old books that lined the dark dusty shelves. In between lay scattered pictures of my mother and father. Old family portraits of blessed memories from years ago were stacked below them. The most recent one was of four years ago when I was eleven. The picture lay on the top shelf in a silver frame, engraved with hearts. We sat on a beach, while vacationing in Croatia; the sun was setting over the Adriatic Sea. My mother's long wavy-blond hair blew behind her in the gentle wind, absorbing all the colors of the melting sun.  Grinning cheerfully, she cuddled up in my dad's arms.  My once carefree father’s face was filled with the simple joy of being alive. His dark brown eyes were soft and filled with the love he had for us. His skin was bronzed and his short messy brown hair lay atop his head. I sat in front, cuddled up in between them. My head rested against my mother's shoulders and I had the most innocent smile on my face. Everyone looked blissful--like nothing could ever harm us.

I remembered that day so clearly.  The air was cold and made me shiver, but I stayed warm wrapped in my parent's arms. The sky was calm with a mixture of violets and pinks. The water lay still and sparkled under the last rays of the sun. I remember playing with the sand beneath my toes; it was soft and golden. The three of us stayed huddled together, sitting with the earth beneath our bodies, waiting for the camera's flash to go off on what would be the last picture of us together. Little did I know that three years from that day my mother would be taken from me. I took my eyes off the photograph. I could feel them watering. After a year of no tears, all it took was one picture of my mother for them to start falling hysterically. Memories of her filled my head and the pain of the loss I felt when she died filled my heart.

Footsteps came loudly into the room. "Lila, what are you doing in the Library? You know you aren't aloud in here without my permission. I would like an explanation immediately." The voice of my father echoed through the room. "Dad, I was just… wandering down the hallway and…I saw this picture,” I said quickly, intimidated by him. His eyes glanced down to the portrait in my hand. My father's once soft eyes flared with anger. He snatched the photograph from my grasp and smashed the frame to the floor.  A loud bang followed and the small pieces of glass flew everywhere. My dad picked the picture up from the ground and ripped it firmly in half. He then crumpled it in his fist and shoved it in his back pocket. I closed my eyes tightly, not wanting to believe what my father had just done. I held my tears back. I looked up at him and no longer recognized the man behind the brown eyes. I spoke softly, trying to keep calm, "But that was the last picture of Mom alive.  How could you destroy it?!" I was afraid to say anything more. "She is GONE, Lila. Never coming back. She is not part of this family anymore. It is a waste of time to think about someone who NO LONGER exists. This is the last time I am EVER going to mention her to you again.  You understand?!?! When will you come to terms with the fact that your mother is D-E-A-D?!?!" All of me wanted to break down to the floor and drown myself in tears. But I had to be strong. I had to be strong for my mother, because no one else would. I held my balance and kept eye contact with him. Holding my fury back, I said calmly, "When will you, father?"

???

As I finished eating the French toast that the maid, Mwandabe, had made me, I realized it had been a whole week since I last saw my father. Even though we slept underneath the same roof at night, it seemed like he didn't exist at all. He had purposely been working over time after our fight. He left early in the morning before I woke up and came home after I was asleep. I hadn't noticed his absence until now, because I was too busy forgetting his presence. I'd gotten over my anger at him, but I had yet to forgive him for the dreadful things he had said about my mother. That, at this point, seemed too much to forgive. I did not have much time to dwell on my thoughts, however, as I heard my name being called from the entry way.

"Lila, come here now please." My dad spoke somewhat agitatedly. The sound of his voice startled me. I walked to the doorway where he stood. He had a stressed look on his face and was carrying a suitcase. He started speaking in a strict voice. "Listen Lila, I'm going to Khartoum to meet with the head of the South African Embassy in Sudan. I'll be back in three weeks. Our maid, Mwandabe, will look after you.  Behave yourself." His voice had no emotion. I forced myself to say a last word before he left, to take the chance. "But... Dad, you can't just leave now, I have to talk to you. I've needed to tell you this for the longest time, but I haven't been able to until now. Ever since Mom---" I was cut off.  "LILA, stop. I have to go."  He turned and walked out the door, shutting it hard behind him. "---died," I finished, mumbling. He always changed subjects whenever I brought her up. I was confused as to why he avoided ever mentioning the most important woman in both of our worlds. He left so suddenly with not even so much as a "Goodbye, I'll miss you." I was angry. He never showed that he care about me.  I didn't want to give up on connecting with my father.  But after a year of no "I Love You’s" and him leaving across the continent with just four sentences to me, I couldn't help it. It seemed hopeless. I rushed to my room and shut the blinds. It was only 6 p.m., but I didn't see any reason why I should stay awake in this horrid world any longer.

???

The sun rose early the next morning. The darkness under my closed eye lids was replaced by the glimmer of the sun. I rolled over in bed, not wanting to face the light. I heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in...." I said with tiredness in my voice. It was Mwandabe. "Lila, wake up. It's your father's orders to have you out of bed no later than 7:00 am. Now, breakfast is on the table." I just shut my eyes and told her to leave. "Now, you must do as I say. Or else I will report this behavior to your father." Her tone turned cold. "I said get out of here!" I screamed.  "NO. You must get out of bed NOW, or I will drag you out myself. You aren't the head of the house. You must obey me," Mwandabe yelled, her accent getting stronger. "I will not. I don't care what the hell you say. This is MY house, I live here and I will do as I fucking want. Now get out of MY room. All you are is the maid, nothing more. Now get out, Mwandabe. Or I'll kick you out," I said, sitting up in my bed. She didn't even look at me, just went out the door and slammed it hard behind her.

It was noon by the time I opened my eyes again. I rested my feet on the cold hardwood floors and put on my red slippers. My bedroom was freezing, even in the midst of summer. But my cashmere pajamas kept me warm. I didn't bother to look at my reflection; I could care less if I didn't look presentable. It's not like I had anyone to look good for. I called down the hallway to Mwandabe in the kitchen, but received no answer. I called for her three more times, but still no response. I didn't have the energy or care enough to look for her through the seven bedrooms and the other twenty rooms of the house. I sat on the couch of the downstairs living room, feeling more alone in this God-forsaken country than ever. I was the only person alive in my 9,500 sq. ft. beach mansion. Everything was silent and the only thing I could hear was my mind. I tried to ignore my thoughts. I tried as hard as I could to get them out of my head. I didn't want to feel anything. The last time I tried, it was too hard; and the only person in the world who could possibly understand the pain I was feeling was my father.  But he was gone. Absent from my life. Sometimes it seemed as if I might as well be an orphan.

???

Sunrise turned to sunset; days went by and things had yet to change. I spent the days sitting alone in my house; doing nothing but occasionally flipping the page in my book or switching the channel on the television. The thoughts in my head still revolved around my problems with my father, know matter how hard I tried to avoid them. It was summertime.  Most of my friends would be at the beach, lying in the sand, flirting with the college guys who came home from Europe for the summer. I had no such desire. I'd spent my days by myself, pondering every last thought. I never called my friends and when they tried to reach me, I ignored them. I felt like no one could possibly relate to anything I was going through. Every waking moment was spent sadly lingering on the past year. The thoughts of how my mom had died: the shot to her heart, the way she died saving another woman's life, were constantly on my mind. A second didn't go by when she wasn't.  I needed her, more than anyone. She was the biggest part of me. She made who I was, and with her gone, I was lost.

After two weeks of droning alone within the walls of my home, I felt like I had been dragged to the bottom, waiting for someone to pull me back up. The rays of the late afternoon sun hit my eyes and made me realize how senseless it was to be lazing around when there was a whole world out there waiting for my entrance. For the first time in a long while, I walked out the French doors to my backyard and welcomed the soft sand under my feet. I went beyond the borders of my property and strolled down the beach. I waded in the crystal blue water up to my ankles; I felt refreshed. I looked around.  Seeing no one, I let myself go. I twirled around, making gentle ripples in the ocean. I let my arms flow with the soft Atlantic breeze. My white skirt whirled as I danced wildly in the sea. The more my body moved, the livelier I became. I twirled around rapidly. I could feel my spirits rising from inside. I felt like I never wanted to stop. Everything was moving at the speed of sound in front of my eyes. I created immense waves around me; they drenched my white summer clothes until they were see-through. I lost myself in the ocean. I kept spinning faster and faster until my mind felt free, like nothing had ever happened to me; like my mother had never died. I spun so fast I lost my balance and fell backwards, my body landing in the sea. I felt dazed and light-hearted. I'd forgotten everything about the past year, and just in that moment I felt the purest bliss, like I was actually happy.

Then my reality came crashing back to earth as I remembered that I was as alone as a chick in a nest whose mother had been prey. It hit me that once I got back to my house, my mother wouldn't be there to sip warm tea with me and my father wouldn't be there to offer me a warm towel. The moment of peace was gone, and I was back in my lonesome life once again. I got myself out of the waves and made footprints in the wet sand as I headed for home.

???

My wet fingers slid along the cold brass knob. I opened the door and was about to make my way to the bathroom to dry myself off when I heard a sound from behind. "You look freezing," said a gentle voice. I turned and found what I saw unreal. "Come here. You need warming up" the man softly spoke. He stood in front of me holding a fluffy red towel. “My eyes have to be deceiving me,” I thought. For the man facing me was my father. I was silent but slowly went up to him as he bundled me in the towel. He embraced me in a solacing hug. My eyes moved to his and the only word I could form was, "Why?"

He sat down on the window seat and motioned me over.  He poured hot white tea into a mug for me to sip. He watched me with an unfamiliar look of compassion in his eyes. He seemed content to just sit there and watch me drink. I was still astounded by his early homecoming. "Father . . .  why . . . why are you home two weeks early?" He looked at me grinning and said, "Why? Is that surprising?" I stammered, "Well... yes. It is. It really is. I mean . . . I never thought of you to be the dad to come back from a business trip for no reason," I said softly, looking down at the wood floor. "But you're so mistaken, Lila.  You see, I have come home for a reason. A reason so big that it's the only thing that keeps me wanting to live," he said steadily. I looked up at him. His eyes never looked away from mine. I was completely bewildered. "What's that?" I asked slowly. "It's you, my daughter, it's you.  It's always been you," he said simply. I was completely taken aback. I couldn't believe the words that just came out of his mouth. Was this the same man who had completely frozen me out for the past year? Was this the same man who had yelled at me every time I brought up my dead mother? Was this the same man who threw the last picture of our family to the floor and shredded it to pieces? I couldn't believe it. He couldn't really be saying this and honestly mean it.  I looked at him straight in the eyes and never moved my gaze. "Dad, I don't understand. Since Mom died . . . you've been so absent in my life. You're almost always working . . . or you're gone on business, and now, now . . . you come home two weeks early from a trip to Sudan, a country in such crisis, only to tell me, the daughter who you act like isn't even alive, that I am the only reason you returned? I mean . . .  that's just not like you.”

He gazed off into the distance.  "Sudan. It's a country completely torn apart by people who don't take the time of day to get to know each other.  All the adults are busy killing each other or running for their lives. Death is a word that is on their minds every second. The men, slaughtering one another. The women, getting raped. And the children, left orphans. I went to a village that had been completely destroyed. Everything was gone and burned by the Janjaweed. I looked to see if there were any survivors, any remnant of the life that was once there, and then I came across them. I came across this group of children who had lost everything: their parents, their friends, their family, their possessions . . . everything that used to be a part of them. And there they were playing football in the dirt created by the ashes of their old lives . . . with the most amazing smiles across their faces. My men and I went to up to them and asked them with the few words we knew in their tribal language what they were doing in the burnt down village. We asked them if they wanted to come back with us to the Refugee Camp. The eldest boy stepped forward, who was around the age of sixteen. He said, "This is our home. This is the only place in the world we know of. We were born here and have lived here our whole lives. And just because it's been destroyed be evil men, doesn't mean we are going to turn our back on it." I pleaded with them to come with us. I told them that if they stayed in the village, they wouldn't survive. They said they knew that, but they weren't going to turn their back on their family, even after a crisis. I reminded them that all their families were gone. But they corrected me. "We know that. We know they're gone. We all saw them get killed. We ran and hid while our parents and baby brothers and sisters were slaughtered and raped. But our family is this village. We are each other's families. Our parents were born here and their souls will live on in this village forever. My brothers and I are going to rebuild this village, and keep rebuilding it when it gets burned down time after time, because you don't turn your back on your family." The boy finished, and the ten boys behind him gave him the warmest hug I had ever seen. They told us they weren't going to come with us, that we were just wasting our time waiting for them. I stood there surrounded by children who lost the most important people in their lives, yet they still managed to go on. They found comfort in the other survivors who've become their brothers and they haven't given up on the possibility that their country will know peace someday.  And that's when it hit me how selfish I’ve been. I stood in front of orphans who had lost absolutely everything in their lives, but still found the joy in being alive. It took seeing the worst to realize I truly had the best.” He stopped, looking at me, tears of joy welling up in his eyes.

“A year ago, I lost my wife. But I haven't lost everything. Not even close and here I was, across the continent from the one person I care for most. The one person who kept me going in the morning. The only person in this whole world I love and would do anything for. I needed to get home and see you. I needed to be with my family. I'm the luckiest man to still have my family. And even though part of it is gone, I still have you Lila.  I still have the one person I love more than anybody. And these boys made me realize that I have to seize every moment I have with you. So here I am. Home. With my family.” He finished and sat silent, waiting for me to speak.

I was completely dumbfounded.  This was the last thing I expected to hear from my father. All this time he was so distant, and I had no idea how much he cared for me. I just had to know that he would be there for me this time. I needed to know that he wouldn't back out on me again. I wanted us to get over my mother's death together, instead of alone. "Dad, I said, "you can't just come home and expect everything to be different. For the past year you've been absent from my life. Ever since mother died I've felt like an orphan. Every time I brought mom up you changed the subject. Every time I tried to get you to help me through her death, you yelled at me. You even grounded me for talking about the pain I felt. It's like you wanted to forget her. And I need to know why. I need to know why you ripped up our family picture and why for the past year I have never heard an 'I love you' from you."

His eyes were watering. "I don't know where to begin. No amount of apologies I give will make up for the fact that I completely abandoned you after your mother's death. The moment I received the news, my whole world fell apart. And secretly the only person keeping it together was you. I'd go to bed at night trying not to cry. Every time I saw you I thought it was the best thing for both of us for me not to show any sadness. I thought it would be better not to mention her so we could forget her and not go through the pain that her death caused us. After she died I had a huge hole in my heart. I felt as if I might as well be dead. But even when I seemed the most distant, even the night I ripped up the photograph, I still came into your room and watched you sleep and that gave me reason to keep on going. I, your father, the person who is supposed to protect you through out your life was afraid. I kept away from you, because every time I saw you, you reminded me so much of her. Every little single thing about you. The very sight of you made my heart burst in pain. I didn't want you to see me weak. Every time you mentioned your mother to me, I was dying inside to talk to you about it, but I didn't. I couldn't. The pain and realization of her death was too much. And I didn't want to take it. But in the end, after seeing those orphans in Sudan, avoiding her death was harder than the pain itself. I hope you can forgive me for my utter foolishness of this past year." His voice was filled with pain.

I stared intently at him. The man that stood before me was a man I could barely remember. He was the man that used to take me to breakfast in the morning. The man that used to let me win at tennis just to see the smile on my face, but more importantly this man was the father I always knew I had. And even during the past year, when he turned into a man I barely knew, he watched me while I was asleep, making sure I was safe. Since my mother's death, I always knew deep down that my father was still alive inside that stranger who ripped our family portrait, and now he had returned to himself.  He was once again my loving, caring father who wrapped a blanket around me when I shivered. He was the man who will always feel the eternal sadness of the loss of his wife, but that's no longer all of him.

I looked into his tear-filled brown eyes and said, "You are not weak to me. You are the father I always knew you were. I forgive you, Papa. How could I not? You're my father. I need you. I'll always need you." Tears started streaming from my eyes. My dad took me in his arms and wrested his chin on my head. "I love you," I whispered. "Oh, my daughter, you have no idea," he said, cradling me.

???

The past year was a year of grief, loss, and realization, but most of all it was a year of finding each other in the loss of another. My dad and I were finally ready to move on from my mother's death, but this time, together. In that moment, wrapped in my father's arms, a part of me that had been gone for so long returned. I felt the love of my father and it rushed through me. I felt alive.

My eyes glanced just beyond the window. The roses were aglow under the departing sun. I remembered how my mother used to water them and I smiled. They were so beautiful. 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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