Story by [Linderel].
"Set it down, mama."
Jerky shakes of a head covered in tangled white hair were the only reaction. The rocking increased in speed as the musical box let out its last few notes, tiny ballerina figure gently winding to a halt. Clawed hands clutched the edges of the box, desolate whimpers permeated the newly settled silence of the room. The young woman standing in the doorway closed her eyes. Swallowed.
"Mama. Please. Set it down. You will break it."
Taking deep, controlled breaths, she stepped more fully into the room, holding their tea tray with white-knuckled hands. Rose-patterned porcelain cups, filled almost to the brink with fragrant Jasmine tea. Matching teapot, sugar dish, and creamer. Two dark red roses cut from the garden just moments before. She'd been pricked by their thorns this morning.
It took three long steps to get to the table by the window. Five short ones with an easily upset burden like the tray. The window, overlooking the garden, was already open, letting in air filled with summer scents. It was a beautiful day.
Rosa set the tray on the table, placed one cup in front of her seat. With gentle but firm hands she pried the musical box from her mama's unresponsive ones, carefully laid it back atop the dresser next to the bed, and then turned to place the other cup in front of her mama. She sat down, poured a tiny amount of milk from the creamer to her mama's cup. Added a sugar, then, after a brief hesitation, another. Settled one rose, now free of thorns, in the wild tangle of hair. Sat back and lightly blew out a breath to cool her own unsweetened tea.
As she raised her gaze, a minute later, she was being glared at. Petulantly. Defiantly. The old green eyes were trying to challenge her to something. Rosa closed her own again, and with a fingertip traced a tired path from forehead to nose. Opened them again, green against green.
"Just drink your tea, mama. Let us not fight today."
The challenge, then, was grudgingly withdrawn, the gaze drawn out to the trees, the flower benches. The rose bushes. A shadow of a smile touched on the pale, cracked mouth.
"Are you trying to build us a paradise, Rosa? Build me a paradise? Hmm?"
Stricken, but without knowing why, she could only stare at the wrinkled profile. Hands trembling she set her cup down on its platter, momentarily irritated by the little tink
it gave. She watched as fingers that were once long and elegant, but now shriveled up like the rest of her mama's body, finally raised their own cup. Surprisingly steady they were, but they had wrapped lovingly around this same cup immeasurable times for decades. They were used to each other.
She swallowed and had to look away. To the garden. It was her mama's life's work, and now hers. It had been their sanctuary for as long as her mama could walk. It had been some months. She felt a burning behind her eyes, reached up to brush an errant lock of hair from her face. Swallowed again.
"Yes, mama. A paradise."
The still half-full cup dropped. Porcelain shattered against hardwood floor, and milky liquid spread around the shards. Her mama had slumped in her chair, head back, eyes closed, mouth slightly open, hands hanging on each side. The rose in her hair had been upset and could drop any moment.
Rosa looked at her for a moment, deep affection in her eyes, and got up to straighten the flower, set the limp hands in the lap, tilted the head forward and down, gently closed the mouth. Caressing the old face with light fingers she turned her gaze outside again, then felt her attention wander.
Straightening up, she walked to the dresser again, picked up the musical box. Opened it, let the familiar tunes wash over her like comfort. Breathed deeply.
Then, she turned around and flung the box out the window, through it, shattering the glass, and screamed.