Shannon inched toward the edge of the cliff and wiggled her painted toes. She took a deep breath; a last taste of life. Her face and arms were covered in angry scratches, evidence of the foliage she had passed through while making her escape. But she was numb to any pain. For a moment she focused on her pink toes, in that lucid flash remembering her daughter’s visit yesterday. Had Erynne painted them? But the moment passed. As she looked away from her feet, she thought of nothing beyond the setting sun, melting like a dollop of raspberry sherbet along the watery horizon.
The wind picked up, carrying with it the smell of Eucalyptus trees and kelp. A distant sound jolted her senses: the sharp cries of a baby. For years her cries had haunted Shannon. She swayed and began humming the lullaby again, her fragile mind hoping that doing so might quiet the child. She resisted the impulse to look over her shoulder. Whether pursued by staff from the nursing home or the dark demon from her dreams, it didn’t matter anymore. It would all be over soon.
“A long time ago, on a path that curved toward the sea…” She started to tell the story, but forgot the words as the tide finally reached the bottom of the cliff.
Why had it taken her so long to accept reality – to understand that the story was hers? Sadly, she knew that the truth was locked inside her now, never to be released by a mind that refused to obey her will.
Another half step and Shannon’s toes were curling over the cliff’s edge, dislodging a trickle of pebbles that dropped thirty feet into the tide below. She sighed and took a deep breath. It was time.
Stretching her arms wide, she closed her eyes. The wind embraced her body, throwing her tears back against her wrinkled face. How she wished she could explain everything to Erynne. Had she even tried?
A momentary seed of doubt crept into her thoughts. She opened her eyes and remembered her daughter. As if summoned by clarity, Erynne was suddenly in her peripheral vision, breaking through the trees with a look of utter horror on her beautiful face.
It’s too late, Shannon thought. I’m too tired to fight anymore. Quiet will come now; and rest too.
She stepped forward.
Only a handful of mourners gathered at the cemetery on the day Erynne O’Keefe buried her mother. Most of them were not dressed for the unexpected Pacific wind moving swiftly over the Santa Cruz hillside. They stood in huddles, sweaters grasped at their necks, their faces screwed up in discomfort. It was early March and had been typically overcast since dawn, but now at midday, the clouds were darkening and the temperature dropping. A steady trickle of headlights was visible weaving its way along Highway One in the distance, but the fog was closing in, at any moment threatening to obscure everything beyond the homes that dotted the adjacent hillside.
Erynne stood apart from the others, oblivious to the weather. A gust of wind lifted her dark hair away from her pale face, but she was otherwise immobile, staring at the mound of dirt beside her mother’s grave. The casket was beautiful – as nice as she could afford – but she couldn’t bear to look at it. When the rain began to fall, someone moved close and held an umbrella over her head.
The priest’s solemn tempo decidedly increased as the rain began to come down in earnest. Erynne barely listened to his words, knowing his eulogy could hold little relevance. Her mother had been placed in the Catholic Social Services foster care system almost sixty years ago. She had never taken Erynne to church, claiming to have never set foot inside one since her mandatory confirmation, which explained why this soggy priest used words like “giving” and “caring” to describe her. He simply hadn’t known her.
The priest abandoned his Bible. Shielding its leather cover from the rain in the folds of his robe, he was now quoting Psalm twenty-three from memory.
“...Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...”
Erynne closed her eyes and saw the Shadow of Death standing beside her mother on the cliff’s edge, whispering in her ear, encouraging her to take her last step. She opened them quickly and focused on the dirt again, watching each drop of rain join the others, find a path down the steep slope, and eventually pool at the bottom in a puddle of mud.
When she looked up again, she saw Mark Osborn watching her from across the casket, his expression filled with sorrow and guilt. For a moment, she felt her eyes begin to sting. She blinked rapidly and looked away, searching the crowd for distraction. Her mother’s old friends tottered in the wind. Very few of them had visited her at the care center. Erynne wondered if they thought Alzheimer’s was contagious.
Her eyelids began to close. She’d had so little sleep in the past few days. Staying awake had been her last line of defense against an onslaught of images too horrifying to recall. The only rest she’d had was filled with dreams. Some were nightmares; harsh reminders of reality. Others she could barely remember; from these she woke with little but the impression of a comforting presence. They made her feel worse than the nightmares. She had not reached her mother in time; she had no right to feel consoled.
Erynne forced her eyes open and focused again on the dirt by her mother’s grave. She heard a baby crying and wondered idly who had brought an infant to the funeral. She felt numb. Numb to the rain and the wind; numb to the fears that had been coursing through her since her mother’s nightmares had returned two weeks ago.
The priest was wrapping it up, giving her just a few minutes to prepare for the onslaught of sympathy. As she bowed her head for the final prayer, she succumbed to the memory of her mother’s frail form on the rocky bluff, her nightgown pressed against her body, her white hair billowing around her face like a cloud. Her sad expression had been so lucid – so knowing. Erynne jerked her head upward and opened her eyes, but it was too late. She could still see her mother stepping over the edge.
Want to keep reading? Dream of Me will be available for purchase on September 20, 2011 at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and other e-book retailers.