The car slows to a stop. Milly looks out and sees a long cement gate that encloses a green park, filled with tall cypress trees that cast shadows across the entire park. She takes a few deep breaths and exits the car. The hot summer sun pricks at her skin, and a stale breeze tugs at her cloths and hair.
She looks at the oxidized metal sign:
Hillside Memorial Park.
Open six AM to dusk.
A small breeze catches Milly’s hair as she lays out a white sheet from her bedroom to sit on. Scattered around, tall cypress and eucalyptus trees tower above her head, and although it’s midday, a shadow falls across the large park. Streams of light glow from the tops of the soaring trees and shoot to the ground like stars falling across the sky. Some of the rays fall on Milly’s face. She takes in a deep breath to steady her breathing as she and Charlie sit down. To her, this is home and she can’t imagine going anywhere that might take her away.
Milly reaches over the cotton sheet into a pink Easter basket, pulling Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches out. She place one in front of herself and passes the other to Charlie, but doesn’t take a bite; rather, she looks at a tombstone in the lawn next to her.
Elaine Milly Ray
Beloved Wife and Mother
August 2nd, 1969 – November 1st, 1999
Milly tried to write a letter to her mother earlier in the day about last year, but it was too hard. Instead,she told her mother about what she and Charlie had done over the summer, even the impromptu road trip up the coast to San Francisco. At the very bottom of the letter, she wrote, “Here’s to my last year of Hell and another great year in Heaven for you. I’m going to make this one the best of all. God help me,” as a pit formed in the bottom of her stomach.
“Hey, Char?” she calls, handing the newest letter to her best friend.
Charlie reaches out and grasps the sealed letter, marked Mom’s Birthday 2007 in his hands.
“With the others, please? And did you bring 2004’s letter?”
“Yeah. Here.” After shoving the first letter in his pocket, Charlie hands Milly an old, folded piece of paper. She opens it slowly, cautiously, like the words on the page would fall off and spill onto the ground if she moves too quickly, and reads:
Dear Mom, 8/2/04
I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday and tell you how much I love you. I miss you so much. I’m doing alright. I’m going to be a freshman! I’m so nervous. Charlie says it’ll be fine, but he doesn’t know anything about high school. I still don’t have boobs yet. When did you get boobs? Jonah makes fun of me all the time… He’s lucky that I don’t make fun of him for having them. We still don’t get along. He still drinks, but I guess I’m not surprised anymore.
Today, Charlie surprised me and came over. His grandma drove us to your grave, and we had an old fashioned picnic. It was really nice to talk to you again. I think Charlie misses you just as much I do. We’re gonna visit you every year on your birthday. I love you, Mom. See you next year.
“Will you ever want the rest of those letters back?” Charlie asks. Milly folds the letter and thinks.
Elaine died of cancer sixteen days before Milly’s tenth birthday. Before she died, she gave Milly a box of letters: one written for every birthday Elaine would miss (until Milly was the age of twenty-five), a letter for all nine of her previous birthdays, and letters marking important moments in Milly’s life—first boyfriend, becoming a woman, high school, college, getting married, first baby, etc.
Milly tried to read all the letters right after her mom died, but most of the letters were complicated and hard for her to understand. It made her more angry and confused. Her mom was gone and she would have to face the fact that she was alone with Jonah. He tried to throw away the letters at one point, when Milly was eleven. Ever since then, she’s kept all of the letters she was given or wrote to her mother with Charlie.
“You ask me that every year,” she laughs.
“I’m just waiting for the day you want them back.”
“That won’t be for a long time,” she says.
Write to live immortal.