Beauty

An old woman is walking through a small cemetery in the outskirts of town.

It is that time of day where at any moment the sky could hiccup and consume the fluffy clouds and full sun and give way to the speckled night sky.

However, for now, she roams amongst perfectly still stones lined up in precise lines.

A bird sings in the distance, and by the large willow tree situated toward the front, a small child watches her collect old bouquets of flowers tight with age and the sadness of being in such a place. The small child is pulled away by an urgent mother headed towards the center of town for groceries. She is now alone again.

The loneliness instills desire in her. She waits for the night. She knows it is when she can count the stars. She sighs to herself, also noting that when she counts them she will find that there are exactly 57 waiting to be recognized.

One star for every person it's her job to guard over in the small cemetery.

The job doesn't hurt her heart as much as it should. She knows that the people in the cemetery are missed enough by those that loved them while they were living.

However, she stops at one grave in particular. Sometimes, there is slightly more room in her heart for one of the dead.

With a hand on the newer tombstone, she reaches down to pluck a flower from the side of the grave. It is a beautiful blue forget-me-not. She isn't sure why it grows in that spot. Her hand is shaking.

The woman's voice cracks as she speaks to the dead.

"Sometimes, there is beauty in the sadness."

Somewhere across town, six months earlier, young parents have lost their only child.

"There was nothing we could do," the doctor tells the young couple sadly. As a doctor of 35 years, he has seen this happen way too many times. "Your baby was gone before we could save her."

The mother, a beautiful brown haired girl of only twenty, weeps quietly.

The father, an attractive baseball player with all the money and the health he can ask for, is stricken with sudden and shattering grief. He doesn't know what to do.

The doctor chokes back emotion. It never gets any easier. "I'm so sorry."

The man wraps his wife in a hug. It's awkward, because they are situated on a stupid hospital bed and there isn't any privacy for grieving. There are nurses present. One looks as if she will cry at any moment. She is new to the job and doesn't yet understand. The others have their heads bowed solemnly. They understand.

The doctor coughs to hide a crack in his exterior. "Would you like to see her?"

The husband kisses his wife on the cheek. His lips taste of salt, when he licks the dryness from them a moment later. She nods against his shirt.

The husband forces the words out. "We'd like to see," There is a pause. They didn't know they were going to have girl. He was suddenly overcome with an image of the freshly painted yellow nursery. He glanced down remembering there was a smudge of paint on the corner of his t-shirt from where he brushed the wall in a hurry to leave the house that morning. His wife had been worried because the baby hadn't moved in a while. He is back in the fluorescent hospital room, the memory pushed aside. He takes a deep breath, "Her."

The doctor nods and then motions for one of the older nurses.

The nurse reaches over and lifts a still baby and cradles the child in her arms, frowning so much, it's evident she may begin crying any moment. She understands, but cannot accept it.

The mother reaches for her first born, and now first gone.

She looks down at the babies face. It is small and delicate, but there is no movement. Her heart breaks in a way that it can never repair itself.

The father reaches over and runs a finger along the baby's cheek.

The older nurse wraps the younger, newer nurse into a hug to hide her tears. She leads her out of the room. The parents don't need to see it.

"She's so beautiful," the mother whispers.

The father nods. It's his turn to cry.

There is such beauty in the scene.

Unaware of the loss felt by the couple on that night, the old woman, her name Anne, sits on her plastic covered couch in her tiny living room.

Her and her husband, Murray, bought the couch 45 years before at a garage sale down the block from their first home. They were just newlyweds back then; him, fresh back from the war, and her, a teacher. Murray was a man that laughed at little things. When he spotted the horrendous, flowered couch amongst the rest of the junk, he knew they needed to have it. It would add character to the home. Anne kissed his cheek, tugged on his hand and told him that just because she loved him, she'd agree to such an ugly piece of furniture in their living room.

They were childhood sweethearts. Anne knew that she'd never grow past that stage where she could find no fault in Murray.

(She never did.)

They brought the couch home and spent an hour maneuvering it through their red- rose colored front door. Finally, they found just the right combination of push and pull and made it through the door. Once inside, they collapsed onto it in a fit of laughter. Later, they made love to commemorate their accomplishment.

For years, they lived in the house on Manchester Street. Unskilled and barely educated, he got a job tending to the graves in the cemetery on the other side of the town. She worked as a teacher in the elementary school. They were happy, but they wanted to start a family.

They tried, for months, and finally years to have a baby.

Eventually, they gave up. It was the hardest thing they ever had to do as a couple.

The woman felt like she was giving up on the on one thing she was made to do: be a mother.

The man felt like he was failing his wife in some way.

These fears and regrets were never discussed.

It was a secret only spoken by the man to the dead.

The woman chose to write her secret on a greeting card addressed to the child she would never have and hid it under their bed.

They both didn't sleep well that night.

However, time goes on and they lived their lives happily as they could for the next 43 years. Their silence somehow pulled them closer together making it harder for them to be apart for more than a few days time. Anne would fret, even when Murray showed up late for dinner. It was as if there was that fear that she could lose him at any moment that drove such an attachment and blatant display of love.

However, Life is a cycle. People die and people are born, every single day. Anne's mother, a robust woman named Marie, always told her children that there is no end or beginning in life. Marie would stand at the stove cooking, because that's what she constantly seemed to do, and preach to little Anne that when someone passed on, there was always someone to take the place of that lost loved one. Anne lived with not only her fear, but that thought in her mind. It was really a tragedy that years of convincing herself of something hadn't really paid of, because when Murray Stevens passed, quickly and painfully, Anne Stevens knew that she saw the glimpse of an ending.

It was an immediate reaction, almost like flinching. However, one cannot be trained not to flinch. Instead, one has to live in anticipation of what may come next.

For the last two years, Anne Stevens had been living her life in anticipation of dying.

Most people would find something dark in her wish, but really, there was something beautiful. The saddest thing a person can ever do is give up any and all hope. Anne was just transferring her hope into something eternal.

Sitting on the couch that Murray loved, watching a sitcom that she couldn't find humor in, Anne Stevens felt beautiful.

It had been two weeks.

The beautiful young girl of only twenty, her name Katie, stood in the kitchen over a bowl of cold meat.

Pieces of dark hair were slipping out of her loose ponytail every time she attempted to force the spoon through the lumpy mixture of egg, meat and bread crumbs. She swatted it away numerous times, until she become so frustrated that she began crying.

She crumpled, sliding to the floor, using the cabinets below the counter as support. She failed at everything she tried.

She couldn't even have a baby. That's all she had really wanted and she couldn't even figure out how to do that correctly.

Katie knew that she was lucky to have Rob, her husband. They had been such an unlikely couple when they started dating. At the time, she was putting herself through community college by working at a local restaurant. He had just been drafted into the major leagues and him and his friend had gone to the restaurant she worked at to celebrate. Katie remembered that all of Rob's friends had gotten drunk and he hadn't. It was his night to celebrate and he had spent it keeping his friends under control and out of Katie's way. He had pulled her aside and apologized for their behavior, afterwards. Then, he leaned over and kissed her. At the time, she didn't even know his name. She loved to think that their incompatibility was what made them work.

He had proposed to her only a year later. They were married 5 months later, despite their parent's wishes to wait. He traveled a lot, but she knew that he'd always come home. She knew that he loved her. Sometimes, she wondered why.

Katie really wasn't anything special. She finished community college, but she had never gone onto a 4 year state school like planned. Either it was because she didn't think she could get in or it required way too much effort. She still worked at the restaurant up until mere months ago, despite their financial security. (She didn't want to be completely helpless.) However, once she found out that she was pregnant she quit her job at the restaurant. The manager threw her a going away party even though she wasn't moving to celebrate her pregnancy and moving on to better things.

It was just another reminder.

Everywhere Katie turned there were constant reminders.

Baked Lays in the drawer next to the bed. She had been craving them for months. They had sat stale and untouched for the last two weeks. Baby clothes taken out of the hall closet and then hastily stuffed back in as if to not upset her. A picture from her first sonogram hidden under a stack of books in the living room. She had cried when she found it by mistake.

She was still crying.

Over the course of the last few days, she had done her best to prevent this from happening. Family members, as well as friends, had come to visit Katie and Rob. Most of them came with happy stories and lots of food. The day before Katie's older sister, Casey, had come over with groceries with the intention of cooking dinner. Despite Katie's experience in the food industry, she sucked at cooking. Casey, in a state of pity and worry for her sister, decided that she'd cook the dinner for her. However, Casey and Katie had spent a good chunk of the day playing board games with Casey's twin daughters. They ended up ordering pizza for dinner. Katie wasn't hungry. Casey watched her closely as she forced down a piece.

For a moment, Katie didn't feel like crying.

However, the next day, she felt driven (by extreme regret) to do something she knew she'd fail at.

Well, why bother trying? (She wondered if she pushed herself hard enough, if she could cry.)

That afternoon, while Rob was at a meeting for next season, she decided to make the meatloaf and mashed potatoes that her sister had wanted to make the day before.

She wanted her husband to come home to a special surprise. She wanted someone in the house to feel some kind of happiness.

Katie followed the recipe closely, but she couldn't seem to get it right. The meatloaf had crumbled and fallen apart. She had added too much salt to the potatoes. Everything was falling apart.

She heard footsteps coming up the back stairs. Her hands were shaking as she tried to pull herself from the floor quickly. She managed to situate herself in front of the bowl, before he finished the ascent. She felt so tired.

Rob opened the door. He didn't move from the doorway. "Hi."

She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, but didn't look at him. The spoon didn't move in the disgusting meat. "Hi."

Rob had been frozen in the doorway a moment before, but soon after the pause, he reached behind him to close the door with his foot. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist gently. (He was still touching her as if she'd break in half at any moment. She wasn't physically in pain anymore.) He rested his chin on her shoulder. "Are you cooking?"

She frowned. Her eyes were probably red, from crying. He didn't say anything about it, and she knew that he didn't for her sake. "Yes."

He kissed the side of her face. "What?"

"Dinner."

Rob pulled her a little closer to him. He was gentle. "It looks like it's coming out good."

She shook her head. "It's not."

He undid her ponytail and buried his face in her hair. He pulled away a moment later. "I rented movies and bought ice cream."

She looked down at the uncooked dinner in front of her. All at once, it looked like too much work. "You don't want dinner?"

She looked over at her husband.

"I'd love dinner." He smiled for her benefit. It was killing her. "What are you making?"

Nothing. She was giving up.

"Meatloaf and mashed potatoes." She pushed the bowl away. "I think I fucked it up anyway."

Her voice cracked somewhere towards the middle. She hated sounding like that. She hated not being in control.

Rob took both of her hands, leading her away from her failed dinner. "Don't worry about it."

"I just wanted to make dinner." He pulled her in for a hug. She was not going to cry again. "I just wanted to..."

There was nothing else to say.

He pulled away from her for a moment to kiss her hard on the lips.

She didn't break like he was sure she would. He loved her.

She could see beauty far in the future.

Five and one half months later, a baby is conceived as an old woman walks through the past, present and future. Every point in time blends together into this graveyard. The couple will have a baby. Katie will be a great mother, the mother Anne always wanted to be. Rob will be a great father, the father Murray was never able to be.

Anne still places the hand on the grave that reads "Baby Bleu" and smiles a sad smile. It's Katie and Rob Bleu's first, but not their last born.

Her voice still cracks. The baby blue flower stands straight up in her hand. It is proud

"Sometimes, there is beauty in the sadness," Anne says. She takes a breath and looks up at the darkening sky. "I love you."

Somewhere across town, two tiny cells meet and take their first deep breath.

It is beautiful.