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     Caroline shouldered her way through the library door, arms laden with all manner of books.  There were novels and coffee table books about flowers and travel, volumes of poetry and stories of girls and their horses, anything she could think of that might spark a gleam of interest in the fading blue of her mother’s eyes. 

She paused to draw in an appreciative lungful of crisp, invigorating air, and admire the bright blue sky.  It contrasted appealingly with the colorful leaves of ornamental trees that lined the drive, azure, bronze, and maple red rubbing shoulders dramatically.  Fall had been her favorite time of year, but lately she found herself longing for the sense of renewal accompanied by spring. 

Fighting off a fleeting surge of reluctance, she went to the small haven that was her car, and drove home.  As she entered her apartment, the scent of baking apples welcomed her, but she knew it was only a candle burning in unconscious mockery. 

“Hello, Miss Caroline!”  The motherly woman who met her with a smile and a quick hug also mimicked what might have been.  What had been, once upon a time.

“Good evening, Betsy.  How is…everything?”

Betsy shrugged minutely.  “Pretty good.  We’ve had worse days.  ‘Night.”

She eased out the door, leaving Caroline to dump the books onto the hall table and walk alone to the chair by the living room window.  Caroline knelt to hug the frail figure seated there, but the elderly woman jerked free and looked up with almost feral alarm.

“Who are you?”

Ignoring the sharp fear in the petulant voice, Caroline swallowed back her deep hurt and backed off.  “It’s me, Mom.  Caroline.”

Immediate calm.  “My little Caroline?  How was your day, dear?  Did you pass your test?”

“Yes, Mom, I passed.”

“Oh, good!  I knew you could.  Math was always so hard for me.  But your father…”

“Yes, Mom, I remember.  He was a pip!”

“Pip?  Mama…?  Did Pip get out of his pen again?”

“No, Pip is fine.”  Long experience had taught Caroline to play along.  “Everything is all right.”

“Mama?  Tell me a story.  About a long time ago.”

Caroline slipped into the persona of her maternal grandmother.  She had heard the stories so often from this lovely, lost woman before her that she could tell them in her sleep.  She sat on the ottoman by her mother’s chair, and placed an arm around the familiar shoulders. 

“One day your father was in a hurry to go to work, and without looking, put goop in his hair.  Then he realized he had slicked down his thick, wavy hair with Pop’s denture cream!  He  tried for two days to get it out but he just kept looking like Albert Einstein with a bad hair day!”

Her mother clapped her hands. 

“And that’s when he started wearing a crew cut!”

“That’s right!”

They laughed together for a time.  Then her mother stilled, and grew wistful.

“Tell me about the roses, Mama.  That’s my favorite.”

“When I was a girl, my friends and I would cut the last of the roses.” 

Caroline closed her eyes, imagination drenched in the past. 

“We took them to the little meadow down by the creek, and spread them out all over the grass.  A carpet of roses, all colors, different scents, perfect and so beautiful that it was as if we were in a dream.

“We’d have a tea party, every single year since we were just children until we all grew up and life kept us from it.  Always the same place, always the final roses…the smell was like a living thing…”

Caroline kissed the soft, pink cheek and shivered a little.  It was as if three generations occupied the twilight shadows instead of two–grandmother, mother, and daughter–all linked by memories, and love, and the brief, cherished stepping out of time, to smell the roses again.

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