The Private Affairs of a Socialite

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Elizabeth stirred from her nap as the curtains burst apart to let a beam of light in. The wind made the room chillier than she had expected, so she quickly roused herself out of sleepiness and made for the double doors that led to the balcony.

After closing them she glanced around the hotel room. She hadn’t had the opportunity to really appreciate it since arriving in Cancun a couple hours before. It had great light, a cheerful bright blue color on the wall, and no lack of luxurious details sprinkled about. She had chosen well.

Unlike most people Elizabeth chose to vacation alone. Her work week consisted of luncheons, fundraisers, art shows, teas, and contrived parties. All of which involved her smiling without feeling. It was all very exhausting. She looked forward to the times of year when a smile would creep upon her like a happy surprise.

But Elizabeth spent most of her vacations without expression of any kind. She didn’t interact with others except for common courtesies, and avoided any sort of activity particularly stimulating. The events she regularly attended taxed her senses, and she preferred them dulled while away at some tropical destination. Only the distant sound of the ocean and rays of sunlight encasing her skin in a heavenly glow were acceptable.

When not at the beach, Elizabeth dined quietly within view of it. She used to believe in drinking alone on these occasions, but the drunkenness had more often than not brought robust, unpleasant emotions to the surface that she rather ignore. Her lifestyle distracted her, which is why she pursued it to the ridiculous degree that she did considering how much she detested the human race. But on vacation the distractions ceased, and she was still trying to find other means of occupying her mind away from wicked thoughts.

Elizabeth found driving to be therapeutic. So she asked at the front desk for a nice route for a couple hour excursion. She glided to her car, anticipating the beautiful sights to be seen and the resulting relief from her mind. Drawing a deep breath, Elizabeth put the car into drive and exhaled as she pulled out of the parking lot onto the main drag of the Zona Hotelera.

She drove cautiously and with ease past all of the bustling hotels teeming with tourists. The restaurants and bars seemed to be spewing brightly clothed people into the sun-soaked outdoors. Twice Elizabeth had to slow the car to allow a drunk or two scamper across the wide roadway to the beach, but she wasn’t perturbed. These people enjoyed their type of vacation, and she enjoyed hers.

Once outside of the Zona Hotelera, Elizabeth really started appreciating the scenery. The greenery that seemed endless made her wish disappear into it; she liked imagining walking deep into the thicket, and never having to return. But she kept driving, further and further away from the obnoxious city until she was quite certain she’d see no one but farmers.

The drive proved to be worthy. There were no rolling hills, but the ocean was nearly always visible. That beautiful blue of the water was often used at the events she attended and worn by the ladies in her circle; it really was “Cancun Blue”. She was certain she had a swimsuit of the same color somewhere, and in that moment she was inspired to find it, such was the majesty of this blue expanse.

Elizabeth decided she would stop for a bit, just to sit on the hood of her rental car and breathe in the salty, sea breeze. She had brought a small camera to document her excursion, her acquaintances back home needed documentation of her visit to believe she had actually gone alone. There was a running joke amongst her crowd that she had an exotic prince hidden somewhere that she would visit when on these “solitary” vacations. They couldn’t believe someone as beautiful as Elizabeth could keep the men at bay, and not revel in luring them. Such is what they would do, if they had her overwhelming beauty. But of course there was no one, and there never would be anyone. Elizabeth had never decided against romance, she simply had never been interested. She was surrounded by people all day and most nights. The last thing she wanted to do was return home to find yet another person, demanding her undivided attention and affection.

After taking the required photos, for which she chose not to bluntly smile, she leapt down from the hood of her car and walked into the tall grasses. She had brought a book to read, the book of the month for her book club that she attended back in the city. It was another dull title about a woman who had dealt with misgivings, usually in the form of a “no-good-man”. Elizabeth tired of this dialogue, and had recommended that the group read something different, perhaps an adventure story, fantasy, or science fiction. They never heeded her advice however; they were interested in but one story, the story of the Common Woman. She found this odd however, considering none of them were Common Women. These women had chauffeurs, nannies, hair appointments, wine cellars, yachts, and summer homes in the Hamptons. None of them would have an issue affording a child, paying back loans, or getting the best healthcare available. It all seemed rather shallow. They just wanted to make themselves feel less guilty for the affluence they had been raised with and married into. Elizabeth doubted any of them would actually answer the call of a “Common Woman”.

After laying in the grass for some time, Elizabeth sat up and saw that the sun was going down. I must have dozed, she thought to herself. She stood quickly and brushed off the skirt of her dress. As she was turning to her car she thought she saw a figure out of the corner of her eye. She quickly turned toward the figure, but found nothing. Just the grasses she had been admiring all day. A bit spooked, she approached her car and got in. She took a moment to drink from her Evian bottle, and realized she was quite dehydrated, and growing hungrier by the minute. Silly, she thought to herself, that silly book put me to sleep all day.

Elizabeth turned the ignition and pulled out onto the empty road. She did not appreciate the landscape nearly as much at night. Everything seemed ghoulish and foul, like the landscape was lusting after her flesh. The uneasiness gave her goosebumps, so she turned on the radio to cheer herself. The only station she could find all the way out there was a mariachi station that seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. For some reason, this gave her an even more sinister feeling, so she shut off the radio with a flick of her wrist and settled into the silence, trying to gain control over her nerves.

She drove another mile before glimpsing a figure down the road. It seemed human, but it was too far away to tell. Please, let it be cattle, Elizabeth begged. To much her consternation she recognized a human form as she drew nearer, and whoever it was walking alongside the road had no light, and was miles from any residence that she could tell. Yet their stride was easy, confident. Well, they’re not in distress, she thought. I can just pass them by and leave them to their wandering. But something told her that this person would not let her pass without a greeting. Was it that their pace seemed to slow upon seeing the headlights from her car? Or was it something else?

The figure turned around briskly as she neared and held up a solitary hand. It was a commanding gesture, and Elizabeth didn’t like it one bit. She was offended by this person, which looked to be a middle aged man, native to Mexico, abruptly putting a hand in the air to command her to do something. Elizabeth did not reciprocate the gesture and did not slow down. She felt herself pressing on the gas pedal harder, and her face unconsciously pulled into a frown. Elizabeth felt the rage coursing through her, at having her vacation ruined by this strange man on this empty road. The emptiness belonged to her, and he was violating it. These were the thoughts running through her head as she swerved her car at the last moment, thrashing into the solitary man who had stopped walking at the side of the road.

Elizabeth’s rental came to a screeching halt as she slammed on the breaks.

After a few minutes of heavy breathing, Elizabeth stepped out of her car and looked back at the road. The man was no longer standing there, violating her passage. She got back into her car, reversed onto the road, and continued on her trek to the Zona Hotelera.

Once inside the parking lot to her resort, she got gracefully out of her car and wandered up to her suite. In the shower, she put the water on scalding hot, and scrubbed the sand and salt from her hair and face. She dressed for dinner, and went to the dining room of the resort with the best view of the ocean. She cut apart her chicken, savoring the delicate spices and seasoning, and sipped on a glass of white wine.

After dinner Elizabeth retired to her room. She tried putting on the TV, but the noise only agitated her, so she shut it off and floated out to the balcony. Clouds had rolled in, covering what stars there were to be seen. So she sat on the chaise lounge, and gazed up into the darkness. She had never felt so alone, and it was lovely. Elizabeth wept tears of joy.

I Am a Mother, Capital “M”

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This wasn’t in the pregnancy books, or in the sage advice from my mother.

I wasn’t told that mothering would be easy. I wasn’t coddled or given unrealistic optimism. Motherhood is ridiculously difficult. Despite my feminist inclinations, I still wanted to be a Mother, with a capital “M”. It was still the “single most important thing” I as an individual could give to the planet; the future. Or something along the same propaganda vein.

Being a Mother wasn’t a primal feeling, or a long, thought out decision-making process with the ones I loved. It was much simpler. I wanted it. Maybe because I wanted to guarantee I’d have someone caring for me when I was older, maybe because babies with all of their babbling and chubby cheeks are adorable. When I say it out loud it sounds like I wanted a glorified pet. But that’s what’s comforting in life, isn’t it? Someone you can care for and who can care for you, when the diaper-wearing role reverses down the long line of average modern life.

So it’s simple, I did this for me. Selfishly.

She has green eyes, like me, reddish blonde hair, like I wish I had, and she’s wittier than a lovechild of Tina Fey and Woody Allen. She’s mine, she’s me, but better.

It would be easy to blame my selfishness. To say my body rejected her because I chose to harbor another human life only so I’d have someone obligated to love me. It’s easy enough for my husband, who barely looks at me without sobbing painfully, to say that I killed our child, his child.

It’s harder to say that it happened because it happened.

I would just love to tag along with the rest of the world. Say that because I didn’t take the pregnancy part of motherhood as seriously as the actual live baby part I am to blame.

“I want to try again,” I say to my husband.

“The doctors said it’d take a miracle to make you a mother again,” he scoffs and takes a swig of gin before vacating the room once more, leaving me in solitary confinement.

I am never not going to be a Mother.

I am the one who decided to go out on New Year’s Eve, five months pregnant with our bundle of life. I did go to that friend of a friend of a friend’s apartment, sipping cautiously on wine while the clock counted down on the year and my well-being. I was supposed to have a mother’s sense, not to trust strangers and put all else before the bundle of cells growing inside of my womb.

But was I really supposed to have the knowledge that my friends would lead me into harm’s way? That there really are people in this world within close enough range of my person that fetishize pregnant women? That my predator had a friend who was just as mentally disturbed as he was? I was supposed to expect to be drugged, brutally raped at the back of a noisy party, and have no one come to my aid.

Funny enough that what excited my rapists most they stole from me. Maybe they didn’t want to share with anyone else.

According to my husband this was no random occurrence. “Everything happens for a reason,” we’re told over and over again. It’s supposed to be comforting. I am the least comfortable I have ever been. I summoned this upon me because I was selfish? It was my fault? This was no logical action of reason. But I don’t have the energy to say anything back. I died along with my offspring.

I close my eyes and hear, “Mama”. “Mama” in a way that suggests anything but familial love. A way that a mother should never have to hear.

If that’s justice I have lost all faith in humanity. Almost as quickly as my loved ones lost faith in me.

Sure, after I felt the sticky blood between my thighs I drank; months later I’m still drinking. Still holding on to that creature required to love me by birthright. Praying to the only god I have known, forgiveness.

I am tired, though. Of begging people to believe that I love my child. So I refuse to stare into their scathing eyes, searching for redemption. I know what I am bound to. I know she is still mine, that I am still her Mother.

I cannot be happy. But at least I can finally close my eyes against my inability to placate others, and cradle my perfect little chubby girl against my breast.

She is so beautiful when she sleeps.

Lifeling

She thought she was okay. The tears rushing down her face seemed to say otherwise.

Why won’t this let me be? Why won’t I let myself be? Clare thought to herself. She was always thinking to herself, speaking truths and half truths and outright lies. But who was there to check her? No one else heard the snide remarks, the reprimands, the pitiful whimpers.

Or did they?

She could never tell. But usually she told herself they didn’t, or didn’t care. As if her emotions were of any monumental concern to anyone else. Puh-lease bitch. She thought to herself once again. Why you?

There was definitely something wrong. NO! The thought charged forward. Don’t you FUCKING CRY….Again. The again dropped off as her eyes blurred, once again.

I’m a strong woman. She often told herself. I am a badass bitch come down from on high like the fucking hammer of Thor! But once the empty arrogance retreated to its tiny bitch haven in her brain the unbidden thoughts returned.

That’s how Clare knew the truths from the half truths and the lies. The truth reared its depression prone head whenever it damn well felt like sauntering up to consciousness. The confidence had to be fabricated and forced upon her thoughts. The empowering thoughts never came unbidden, they were sent for with envoys, banners, and entreaties. And they could only be disturbed to respond a small percentage of the time they were beckoned.

When the boasts didn’t answer a summon the truth only became stronger. Weakling. Clare usually got that one unbidden. You’ve lost the courage to speak to anyone but yourself. A vicious voice would often say. Well, hello then lovely. Fancy seeing you here. It would jest.

She would jest. She had to force herself to admit that all of the voices were actually her. I really am a bitch. That brought the first smile to her face for days.

If people had noticed her smile they probably would have stared in awe. Stand and bow, bitch.

She had the urge to buy a Butterfinger from the vending machine. Clare had some self control, I mean, she did send envoys to her own brain. That was the small shred of dignity she retained. It didn’t really make her feel dignified. But people complimented her on it. “You’re so healthy!” and “I wish I had the discipline to exercise like you do!” No one could say anything about her personality, so they used the only material given them: Clare’s legs. “Man I would kill for those legs!” Was a favorite.

In truth Clare only restrained from gluttondom because she wanted to punish herself. It was a perfect way to show you had control, moulding the parts of your body that could be altered without a scalpel. Now I just need to take up knifing, she thought. Then I’ll really be in control. What a sick fuck, she thought next. That was more accurate.

The only other time Clare felt any relief was when she was singing. Alone. No one else would hear that wailing. Only the walls of her shower and the confines of her car echoed back to her.

The water could drown her out. The car could stifle her bellowing, when her notes would suddenly shatter and her tears broke free. She could choke to herself, allow her recovery to come when it pleased.

She hardly ever wiped her face anymore. She let the wetness evaporate on its own. The streaks were another shield. No one would bother her with a salty face. Why get trapped into the sad sack saga of a complete stranger. It’s so much easier to go about your day with nothing but your blind ambition and sense of self importance guiding you.

There was one thing that truly cheered her. She knew how to be alone.

Not everyone can do that, be alone. Some take it as a sign that they’re not worthy of attention, that they drive people away. Clare on the other hand boasted about her aloneness. Never loneliness, she was not lonely. There is a difference.

Clare could while away the hours as well as a cat could. She identified with feline nature, independent, sassy, almost effortless in her daily happenings. She didn’t think that this was a bad habit. Who wouldn’t want to be able to entertain, or at least occupy, themselves for hours on end? Life went by slowly and quickly in the same instance, and Clare thought there was something to that. As if she had unlocked the key to life itself.

Well, she wouldn’t go that far. She still cried at random junctures without apparent cause. She couldn’t claim to be the advisory to the world, much less to any single sap who would listen to her.

She would often read; magazines, novels, non fiction, science journals, even instruction manuals. Sometimes she retained the information with startling clarity, and other times her eyes would just glaze over and she would enjoy the simple physical act of reading. She found people left her alone more often when she read in the public places she was required to visit. No one wants to be that dick that interrupts an intellectual act.

Other times she would stare out of her dusty window above her bed. Again, sometimes processing information with great focus and sometimes completely shutting out the world and all of its petty stimuluses.

What really got her through her emotion filled days was the fact that nothing mattered much. She would die, just as all would die. She would live, just as people were meant to live. She could comfortably couple with solitude for the rest of her days without impact.

In the end, she was nothing more than a speck of carbon living out its life sentence on earth. No matter what decisions she made she would always have an expiration date. There was an odd comfort in that, but a comfort all the same. Viva la insignificant! She smiled.

Marriage

“Today, I am woman,” Aster said to herself as she braced herself against the car door. Everyone had been shocked that she waited for marriage, and at twenty-seven? In this day in age it was truly unheard of outside of certain religious sects. Yet she had been patient. She had truly saved her maidenhood, (oh god am I calling it that?), for the sanctity of the celestial marriage bed. “It had better be white, with crisp cotton linens,” Aster thought indignantly. “I’m not giving it away on something cheap and shiny.”

Aster didn’t do overdone, grand, or even elegant. Simple. She was simple, but not simplistic, easy-going, but not easy, and tidy, but not anal. “Oh no, never anal,” she thought.

The ceremony had been as concise and understated as Aster. Fewer than twenty people attended; there was no crude dancing or rowdy drunkenness or even a suggestive best man’s speech. All went according to plan, unlike other weddings, and everything had its place, even the kiss was poised and practiced, down to the quick slip of the tongue at the end to suggest Aster had grown up.

And she truly had. Or was about to at any rate. Here came her man. Her husband. The one who had waited five years to wed and bed her, with all the patience of a steer to the slaughter. Aster had never once felt his pressure, barely even his longing.

There was a time in their first year of courtship that he had gotten spectacularly drunk. Aster, as a good girlfriend, was his designated driver. She had thrown him on his bed best she could and had turned to leave, but his quick hand lost all it’s quiver as he reached for and grasped her upper thigh. He became surprisingly certain, as only a man with a burning passion would in that state of disability, and gathered her hips into his arms, pressing his warm face against her firm bottom. The sudden hot breath against her backside made Aster tingle promptly, but she remembered her celibacy almost as quickly and attempted to push him away, but in her twisting his right hand had wound its way up her skirt, finding the cotton underwear and pushing it aside, groping for her wetness.

It was then that she screamed. It was a piercing, arching scream sure to wake not only the neighbors, but to disturb the people on the street as well. It was what he needed to sober up, and he blindly apologized, his eyes not quite meeting hers. She knew he was ashamed, and decided in that moment not to shame him herself. She forgave him in an instant, and the event had never been spoken of again. Sex itself had never been spoken of again, until the engagement. Aster thought it too tempting to discuss for him and he followed lead, unwilling to lose her, especially due to his bodily immaturity.

So here they stood, four years later. The hot sun beat down on them at the southern California resort. They had flown out of their small midwestern town immediately following the ceremony. Aster had insisted on waiting until they actually reached their honeymoon destination for her, uh, deflowering. Privacy was another important factor to her. It could not be a hotel room the first time. It had to be its own building, for she feared the pain would force her to gasp and scream. And that would not do for quiet, simple Aster to have the whole floor sonically witness her virginity vanishing.

The bungalow was nice, but not luxurious. It had a bit of an ocean view, just barely enough to justify the price, and fresh, bright linens that suggested cheeriness and warmth. The deck doors were thrown open to let in the ocean breeze, and landscaping privately contained it. The sight of the outdoor bed was enough to make Aster blush and glance and her new husband in dismay. She had not expected the great outdoors to bear testimony to the act. But when she returned indoors she was relieved to find a four-poster canopy in the bedroom. “This,” she thought, “will do.”

Her husband heartily agreed. He scooped her up into his arms with a little dance and landed them both gracefully onto the bedspread. He kissed Aster’s ear and whispered, “Are you ready?” Was she? Aster didn’t hesitate for fear of changing her mind. She hurriedly shook her head “yes” and the lovemaking commenced.

Afterward, Aster did not feel much of anything. She was not disappointed, not hurt, and not ecstatic; she was not even embarrassed at all the blood soaking the white sheets. What disarmed her the most was that she did not feel love. She gazed at her dutiful husband, already cleaning up the bed and telling her not to worry. She had felt love for this man many times, why was now not one of them? It worried her, but Aster decided not to dwell on it too long. “You’re just shell-shocked,” she thought. “That’s all.”

The next day the couple ventured out to a remote airfield. This was part of their pact in married life, to take adventures together, to trust that everything would be fine as long as they were together. Today their adventure meant jumping out of a plane. Neither of them had skydived before, so they thought it was an excellent way to usher in a life of adventure and trust in each other. That’s what hurtling to the ground was supposed to mean, right?

Aster could tell he was stupidly excited. It had of course been his idea, but she went along with it. She did not want to appear to be a wet sandwich on their honeymoon. Aster believed people were supposed to glow like the sun and be daring on honeymoons; it’s the time for them to be young. And since Aster waited for her 27th year to become a bride, youth was ever more on her mind.

So Aster gritted her teeth when she entered the airplane, fully outfitted for the freefall. She had made sure the guides checked her equipment four times instead of the usual two, and she mimicked their movements a couple times after that. Almost totally assured that no malfunction would befall her, she examined her husband’s gear as well.

He swatted her hand away saying she should be less his mom and more his lover. He said it jokingly, but Aster saw the hard glint in his eyes. He was annoyed with her, visibly for the first time. He was always joking with her, but she had never seen that hard glint before. Not in the five years they had been together. “Or am I just now noticing it?” she thought. As if marriage had suddenly flipped a switch in her brain. “This is who you’re married to, look and see!” her conscience jested at her. She tried to brush away the thoughts and smiled, perhaps stiffly, but a smile all the same.

As the plane took off Aster’s mind became preoccupied with the height. She had always been wary of heights, not outright fearful, but cautious. Her flight out to California had only been her second, and this small rickety thing her third. “Adventure!” she forced herself to think. “By God, I’m adventurous!”

Her sense of adventure escaped her however as the airplane doors were opened. It yawned wide, seeming to swallow the expanse of sky behind it, all while blowing harsh wind on her person as she was being ushered toward it. Aster’s knees buckled and the hard glint returned to her husband’s eyes, if for a brief moment. His words were honey when he spoke however, “I love you Aster! I trust you and we will do this together! We’re married now!” he shouted as if she needed reminding and he just remembered himself. So clutching his hand, she wiggled forward to the door.

Perched on the edge of the plane, Aster quivered, but put on a brave voice for her beloved. “This is nothing!” she shouted. She may not have convinced herself, but at least she had convinced him. Reassurance spread across his face as he said, “I knew there was a reason I married you.”

The instructor then shouted for them to focus and wait for his signal. Aster would have liked to look back and say those seconds went on forever, but for her cowardly self the seconds went by all too quickly, and she was suddenly barreling toward the ground, devoid of any courage or visible protection.

Aster must have been screaming, because when her husband pulled her close he had one finger to his lips making the “shhh” sign. There was no hard glint, only a serene glaze over his pale gold eyes. She had always swooned over his eyes; it was hard to look away once he had used them on her. They held her captive, gazing into the molten gold depths, as if they were a true treasure. It was no different this time. He mouthed the words, “I love you.” The wind was too fierce for them to hear one another.

He made to grab for his chute pull, but it didn’t eject. He tried again, twice, thrice, but to no avail. If Aster had been in that situation, she would not have calmly tried the emergency chute pull as he did in that moment. And she certainly wouldn’t have tried again just as calmly when that one failed as well.

Aster searched the sky for the plane, but it was nowhere in sight. That quickened her breath a bit, and she began sobbing. The hard glint returned and he clutched her closer, pointing to her chute pull. “Of course, he means for us to land together with my chute,” Aster thought. She was ashamed for not having realized that earlier. The lack of plane in the sky was still working its anxiety magic on her however, and she did not truly settle down.

The plane search had preoccupied Aster so much that she had not seen the creeping feeling of dread spreading over her husband’s face. She caught up soon enough however when he began shaking her, visibly but not audibly screaming. The tears did not return for Aster however, this time she was struck mute. She scrambled at all of her safety ropes and straps, but to no avail. Both husband and wife were without chute, clutching each other as they tumbled downward in a symbolic and literal fate. “This is our marriage,” Aster thought. “Already a ruin.”

His eyes had found hers again, but this time was different than usual. She was not captivated by their deep golden hues, or even his expression of concern and love. Aster was actually annoyed that she was not in this situation alone. All she wanted was privacy, privacy for her dying thoughts, her last thoughts, however one would put it. It seemed an intrusion that he should be trying to communicate with her somehow while she was falling to her death. Aster had entered this world alone, and she had intended to leave it the same way.

He was crying now, the tears were sliding up the bridge of his nose and then being released with great force into the open sky. He was mouthing things to her, but Aster could only wonder if someone on the ground would receive his tear, and mistake it for a raindrop. “Maybe all rain is made from tears of the dying,” Aster mused.

By this point he was getting righteously angry with her for ignoring him in their last minutes together. He clasped her face in a surprisingly gentle way between his hands and forced her to look into his watery, gold eyes. “I LOVE YOU!” he mouthed, desperately demanding her answer. She could only look at him blankly. Her annoyance was gone, but it had not be replaced with tender feelings, or feelings of any kind for that matter.

Her fingers found his and she removed them from her face slowly. He was staring at her with open horror now, but Aster did not seem to notice or care. When all of his fingers were free, only their fingertips were connecting the two. No love or marital duty bound Aster to him, nor did hatred or disgust push her away.

She gazed down at the ground below them, rushing up to greet their small, insignificant frames. In a last attempt to salvage their marriage before death, he grasped at Aster’s arms, trying to pull himself closer. He mouthed again, “I LOVE YOU!!!” When Aster responded by turning away to gaze at the ground again his grip loosened, and he eventually let go of her completely.

Aster never once turned away from the ground to see him go. The earth fascinated her more than her husband’s lion gold eyes ever had. She was its prisoner now, listening intently as it bid her to come closer. She obeyed, spreading her arms and legs wide, as if to make a snow angel. This time however, she intended to make an earth and a heavenly angel all in one swoop. Aster thought it would be oddly pretty, leaving an imprint of her body on the surface.

As the ground neared, Aster found her voice again. “I…love you,” she said to the earth. That felt right, it felt…natural. She thought she would try it again; “I love you,” she said with more resolve. She knew she had meant it more in that moment than any other time she had uttered the words before in her life.

In the very last moments before Aster joined with the earth, she had wanted to say she was happy with the way she led her life. But something still pinched at her core; she could not lie to herself, not now. What do you call someone who avoids the truth even in the face of death?

Aster was not a coward. For all her timidity and silent grace, she would still not condone outright cravenness. “The only regret I have…” she pondered, “is not dying a virgin.” She was then free to die, to kiss the ground and embrace the soil, dream a thousand dreams or not dream at all. That wasn’t for her to decide. “No more deciding.” Aster had never felt so alive as in the moment of her death. There was a sweet exhale, a poof of dirt and a body; its master rejoiced, her second marriage consummated.

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