Short fiction by
Christina L. Rozelle
It felt colder in the room that day.
Lucy knew they were trying to kill her, and freezing her was one of the many ways they tried to do it. But that day was different. Along with the usual frigidness, came a quaking emptiness that she couldn’t quite place. The girl that had come by, supposedly to keep her company, went on and on about this love between two people Lucy had never met. She was unsure why the girl was telling her such things. It was none of her business and she could hardly relate. She couldn’t remember if she had ever experienced anything like that in her life. All she could remember now, was the harsh climate of her home, the ever-present loneliness . . . and the frogs.
The frogs were her friends. If she moved too quickly around the room, she’d startle them, so Lucy was sure to remind all who entered to watch for them. And when they told her the frogs weren’t real, she kept quiet, because she knew they were just trying to trick her. They were always trying to trick her.
“Gran? Are you all right?” the girl asked.
Lucy nodded, rocking faster in her chair, keeping an eye on Jasper, the mammoth toad who hid behind her trashcan. She remained cautious as the girl continued, rambling on about the time the man came home from four long years at the war, and how the woman had knitted him the ugliest winter sweater on the planet, but the man loved her so much he wore it proudly anyway. The girl laughed softly as she opened a photo album in her lap.
“I don’t know whose this is, do you?” she asked, running her fingers along a lock of hair. “I can’t read the writing beside it.”
“How would I?” Lucy asked.
The girl’s face tightened with pain, which confused Lucy. Why was this stranger so emotional over things that she knew nothing about? Her eyes wandered to an unfamiliar painting of a young couple, frozen in their laughter, and she wondered what they were laughing about. It made Lucy very sad but she didn’t know why.
“Aww . . .” The girl knelt by Lucy’s side and took her cool, wrinkled hand, cupping it inside her young palms. “I always wondered what you two were laughing at.”
“Oh, that’s not me.” Lucy tried to see why the girl would mistake the woman in it for her.
“Gran, it is you. It’s you and your husband, Dale, my Grandpa. That picture was painted on your honeymoon, fifty-seven years ago.”
Lucy stared at her, feeling the sudden rage she felt when she knew someone was trying to trick her. Tears filled her eyes, blurring the girl’s face. She tightened her trembling fists. “No! You’re lying to me!” She turned away from the horrible picture and her eyes landed on the tiny locket beside her bed. Her chest heaved and swelled as she took it in her hands and opened it.
The girl cried softly beside her.
Lucy looked from the man in the tiny gold heart to the girl . . .
. . . And then, a light turned on somewhere.
“Annette?” Lucy whispered.
The girl cried harder and wrapped her arms around Lucy’s neck.
“You’re my . . . my granddaughter . . . .”
Annette nodded and kissed Lucy’s cheek.
Lucy looked down at the man in the gold heart. She tilted her head slightly to the right, daring to look at the picture on the wall again. And then, she knew. Lucy closed the locket up tight inside her palm. How could she forget?
Dale was a great man. There was never a day that went by that he didn’t do something for someone else. He was a war hero, a teacher, a giver, a lover . . . . But most of all, he was her best friend for fifty-seven years.
“He’s . . . gone?” Lucy asked.
Annette nodded, tears trailing her cheeks.
“Please,” Lucy begged. “Please don’t let me forget my Dale. I don’t want to be without my Dale,” she pleaded, holding her granddaughter as tight as her weak arms could manage.
Annette sobbed into her grandma’s lap. Because she knew there was nothing she could do. It was only a matter of time.
As Lucy squeezed the locket, drenching her granddaughter’s shoulder with her tears, Jasper hopped out from behind the trashcan and shook his head at her.
“Wait. . . .” Lucy pushed Annette back, held her at arm’s length. “Who are you? Are you here for the frogs? Because you can’t have them. They’re all I’ve got.”
* * *
To preorder Christina’s Upper YA Dystopian Sci-Fi novel, “The Treemakers,” releasing on December 3, 2014, follow this link.