I come here every Friday. Same time – between three and three thirty, before rush hour. No one knows I come.
In the summer it was easy to gather the dead flowers from the week before; all I had to do was snap their dry stems and smash their shriveled heads into a green plastic sleeve. With the arrival of winter, the task has taken a bit longer; I must pluck petals that have blown onto brown leaves, that float in puddles and cling to the spokes and frame of the painted white bicycle.
I pull over and settle into a ditch, pissing off the driver behind me who’s been hanging too close anyway. He sounds his horn as he passes; I don’t look over. He has no idea what I’m going through. It gets no easier coming here week after week.
I climb out clutching a bouquet of red, purple and gold chrysanthemums. I’m regretting this week’s color choices; purple reminds me of the knot on Jordan’s forehead, red of the blood trickling from his ear. His bicycle was gold.
My boots crunch along the leafy ditch. A few months ago, this stretch of road smelled like honeysuckle. Now the trees are bare and the underbrush brittle and all I can smell is smoke drifting from distant chimneys, a woody fragrance, almost comforting.
I don’t see the minivan – parked beneath a canopy of vines – until I’ve nearly reached the intersection. I don’t see the woman until it’s too late. She rises from a crouch, turns to face me.
“Hi there.” I try to sound as casual as possible, like a passerby who just happens to be carrying a bouquet.
She surveys me for a second. “Are you a friend of Jordan’s?” She must think I’m in my late teens; she doesn’t know I’m a mother too.
“I didn’t know him very long.” Five minutes. The last five minutes of his life.
Her eyes are amber, like Jordan’s. The bouquet slips from my hand; I catch it midair and prop it against the front tire. Last week’s flowers have been collected, all but a few pink petals on a pedal.
I can no longer come to this makeshift memorial. I can no longer bring flowers. This saddens me profoundly.
“The mums are pretty,” she says.
I owe her more than flowers. I close my eyes and hear the screech of tires.
I’m scared. I can’t see anything.
What’s your name?
Can you feel this?
Jordan, stay with me. You know what I do, when my kids are scared? I sing to them.
D’you know anything by the Cure?
“He loved eighties music.” I open my eyes, shove my hands into my pockets.
Jordan’s mother smiles. “That’s probably my fault. I sang to him when he was little. A lot.”
“I sing to my kids too.” I sing to them when they’re scared.
“Oh.” She flinches, seemingly startled. “How many do you have?”
“Two. They’re very young.”
“Me too. Two children.” She looks down at the ground. I know she no longer has two children; I know more about her family than she realizes. “My daughter and her friends painted this bicycle. I come here when I can. But it’s hard. It’s hard to come. It hasn’t gotten any easier.”
I take a step backward. “I should go.”
She fixes her amber eyes on me, rimmed in red, just like Jordan’s were right before he closed them. “You’re the one who brings flowers every week, aren’t you?”
“I’m so … I’m so sorry.” My words collide with one another, get lodged at the base of my throat and deepen my voice. “I should go.” I take two more steps backward.
“The woman who hit him, I heard she stayed.” Tears collect on her bottom lashes, linger there. “If I could speak to her, I’d ask her if he was in any pain. I wish I could ask her.”
I take a deep breath. “He wasn’t in any pain.”
Her face scrunches up, setting the tears free.
“He wasn’t alone. I was with him. I was holding his hand.”
She nods. She hears me.
“He was thinking about the songs you used to sing to him.”
Traffic swishes by.
“Thank you for the flowers. It means a lot to me, that you…” She presses her hands to her face.
“I’m so sorry,” I say. I walk away, look back once to see her open the door to her minivan, then hurry along the leafy ditch, back to my car.
It’s supposed to snow in a few days. A lot. Maybe I’ll bring white flowers next Friday. That’ll look pretty, white flowers leaning against a white bicycle standing in the snow.
–Bari Lynn Hein