Ashley's Song

glowing-orb.jpgAshley's Song
by Anon Allsop

This is one of my older stories - I knocked the dust off it and decided it could be placed here on Big Closet.

The ancient woman sat quietly in her rocking chair and looked back at me, her watery eyes unwavering. I looked from her to the little girl, then back to her again. I felt terrible for them; this was the part of the job that I hated.

"Mrs. Patrick...ma'am, I'm really sorry to have to tell you this but..." My eyes looked at the innocent face of the little girl. "Uh... this would be easier if she weren't here." My voice was shaking with emotion.

The old woman looked at the girl and asked her to go inside for a while, "Go on." She said gently guiding the child toward the door. She waited until the door closed and turned back toward me saying, "Okay Brian."

With a deep and quivering sigh I began, "It's about Ashley Ma'am, she was in a traffic accident earlier this morning."

"How is she?" The old woman asked even though she could read it upon my face and knew what my answer was going to be.

I looked into her sad eyes and breathed deeply trying to hold back my own tears. "She isn't, Ma'am." I used my hand to wipe a tear, which had begun to trickle down my cheek, "I am so sorry, Ma'am... this is a part of the job that I hate."

She stared off into the distance and slowly turned her gaze to me, "You are just doing your job, Brian." Her hand reached to her forehead and balanced it there in her palm. Her soft sobs becoming increasingly louder with each passing moment, I stepped toward her and did my best to comfort her.

This was such a strain on this poor woman who had up until about twelve years ago lived with her son and daughter-in-law in their cozy little Cape Cod home. They too had been ripped from her clutches by an auto accident, killing them both. She raised their only daughter, Ashley from a young teen into a beautiful woman. She stood in for her grandchild when she married only six years ago to a wonderful guy named Jack.

Jack and I had been best friends during High School playing sports and hanging out, we only parted momentarily when we went into college. I studied law enforcement and Jack became a firefighter. Heck, I even accidentally introduced Ashley and Jack during our last class reunion when Ashley was supposed to be my date. It wasn't long before they were an item and I was the proverbial third wheel.

Then, about four years ago our town was rocked by a fire, which destroyed much of the downtown business district. Jack had become trapped in a building and was badly burned. He had been air lifted to a local burn unit where he lay for two weeks, until he lost his fight to live. Ashley and her Grandmother were devastated as the young woman was carrying her unborn daughter.

Ashley had just started getting past her mourning for Jack during this past year, which was when she agreed to go out with me. After many, many dates we were becoming very close - and this had to happen. I looked over the elderly woman's shoulder at the young girl on the other side of the door peeking through the screen.

I tried to hide my tears from the old woman but she saw right through me. Walking over, she rubbed my back and waited for me to gain my composure. Finally, I looked at her with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart and spoke, "If you or little Kara need anything... ANYTHING, please call." I adjusted my gun belt and stared into the clouds trying to regain my presence.

“How did it happen?” She asked, one hand still stroking my back.

I couldn’t look at her as I spoke of her granddaughter’s accident, instead I stared into the porch flooring as I spoke. "She had been on Centerline Road down by the old lumber mill and had a deer jump in front of her car; she tried to avoid it and veered off the road."

I watched the shoulders of the old woman droop. "She slid along the gravel until her tire caught the soft ground...that’s when her car became airborne and rolled before it came to a stop. Ashley was pronounced dead at the scene."

"Brian, you loved her didn't you" I nodded trying to hide my gathering tears. "And the little one... do you love her?"

I looked at her and nodded trying to choke back the grief that I was feeling, "I love her like she was my own."

She patted my arm saying, "That's just what I wanted to hear."

I had a strange feeling about her line of questioning. I thought that since Ash’s grandma was well into her eighties, she was going to try and find a guardian for little Kara. I thought about it for a moment and decided if that was what she wanted, I would do it. But yet again the old woman was full of surprises and asked another strange question.

"How many hours have passed since the wreck?"

Looking down at my watch I answered, "About four..."

She stood up straighter, "Then, there may be enough time!"

She beckoned me to follow her into the house, which I did. Down a long hallway I trailed her to her bedroom, she asked me to pull out a trunk, which was hidden under her bed. I lowered myself to my knees and grabbed at the leather handle of the old trunk. With great effort I dragged the box out into the center of the room.

Flipping back the locks she asked me to open the great lid. It creaked and groaned from lack of use. "This has been in my family for generations." she said as I let go of the lid. "Our answer is in here somewhere... ah, here it is."

I watched as she lifted the item from deep within the trunk and sat it on the edge of the bed. She then turned back into the box and pulled out a small glass sphere about the size of a tennis ball. Looking back toward me she smiled and pulled out two ancient hand-dipped candles, which looked to be made from tallow, all lumpy and yellowed.

"What time are you finished at work?" she asked. The question caused me to wonder just what this old woman was up to. With a gesture of her head she inclined that I was to follow her. Down the hallway we went until we got into her living room where she placed her items on the table in the center of the room, then again turned toward me. "Well?"

"Uh... I... I'm not off until 6:00." I said trying to figure out what she wanted.

I decided that she was in shock, I had seen it before. After hearing news as she had, folks just go on as nothing happened and seem to just drop off the deep end. Her lack of grief put me a bit on edge. At first she was distraught, and then once I told her Ashley had only passed a few short hours ago, it was as if I told her that Ashley had stubbed her toe or something. I ached for my lost love, so bad that I felt that I couldn't go on myself and it angered me that this old woman was suddenly acting so nonchalant about the whole thing. This was just too bad, I thought to myself as I shook my head... who will take care of the poor child?

She sat down on the couch as Kara walked into the room; I picked her up and gave her a huge hug. The old woman looked at both of us and smiled, "It's too bad that you and Ashley weren't married because when I pass on... Kara will have no one to take care of her."

I looked down at the small child making faces in the reflecting surface of my badge. "I could try to take care of her- It would by an honor." I responded.

"That's a nice gesture but you know as well as I do that once the State deems me unable to care for Kara, they will remove her and place her in child custody. I can barely take care of myself, let alone a three year old." She choked back a sob and continued, "I have an idea that may work, but it would take a great sacrifice from you... a sacrifice greater than you may want to give."

'Here it comes,' I thought. 'She's going to ask me to do something crazy... probably illegal.' I studied her wrinkled features for a moment.

"Look Mrs. Patrick, I can't stay around here this afternoon, I have to get back to work. I'll stop by later after my shift. We can talk more then." I lowered Kara to the floor beside her. "I really am s... sorry." I choked back a sob.

She took Kara’s hand. I wrapped my arms around her in a hug, she tenderly patted my arm and told me to go on, and she would be okay. I turned and walked out the door and back to my squad car, waved and drove off leaving her and the girl to their fate.

The old woman watched me drive away and then slowly turned back to the inside. She would wait until little Kara was down for her nap and then... she could get on with her preparations.

***

While Kara napped, the old woman eased herself into the chair. Spread out before her, were the items on the table. Looking at each item carefully she placed it in its proper place. Opening the book, she slowly turned the pages as if she were looking for something specific. She smiled as her finger traced down the list on one page, she mentally counted off the items she had on the table.

Following the directions as anyone would follow a recipe, she began to softly speak aloud. She first lit one candle, then another taking time to read the lines before proceeding. Everything must be perfect; her family's well being would depend on it.

As the candles flickered her voice became louder and louder until it sounded more like a song than anything. If someone were listening, they may think the melody was familiar but would never recognize the unwritten words. Her eyes sparkled as the glass sphere began to glow and swirl with light as if it were contained somewhere within its shape.

A slow smile crossed her wrinkled face as she stopped her chant like song. She read on and then one by one blew out the candles, but taking care not to touch the glowing ball, she gathered up everything on the table and placed it back into the trunk. Returning to the living room, she picked up the ball with a pair of salad tongs and placed it up on a shelf, away from Kara's reach.

***

I went about my day as usual, but each time I would have a moment to reflect, my mind would dwell on Ashley and her little family. I tried to keep my mind busy but it was useless, I missed Ashley terribly. I kept thinking back to a conversation we had about a month ago where she asked me what I thought of Kara. Of course, I replied that I thought the world of the little girl and would lay my life down to protect either of them if need be.

She had smiled at that and gave me a huge hug. The smile from that memory slowly faded as reality set in, I pulled to the side of the road until my tears no longer blurred my vision.

I knew that Ashley would want me to try and help her Grandmother care for the little girl but I knew that by me not being a blood relative, and her Grandmother being so frail and old, they would take the girl away before we could mount any kind of assistance. Maybe her Grandmother was right; maybe I would have to do something drastic to help.

With steadfast resolve, I decided there and then that I would take the old woman and child with me and flee to some other part of the country. I'm sure that is what Ashley would want me to do. I could always get another job. This is what my thoughts were for the remainder of the day, and when my shift ended and I drove toward the old woman's home.

I climbed up the stairs toward the door, waiting there was the smiling face of the woman. She hugged me and directed me into the living room. I glanced around the room and asked her where Kara was, thinking that we should get going as soon as possible.

“I asked a young friend from across the street to watch her while we could talk.” The old woman smiled and chuckled as she studied my face and perceived my impatience. "I know what you're thinking, you know that we wouldn't be able to get very far before they finally caught up with us."
I thought about it for a moment, and then decided that she was probably right. If we took off now, especially before the funeral, people would wonder where we were and come looking. "Then after the funeral." I decidedly spoke.

"With your help that won't be necessary." She smiled. "I’m sure you were wondering what you were helping an old woman do with all of those items earlier today, weren't you?" I stood there with a puzzled look on my face. Now I was confused.

"Ma'am, with Ashley gone, you will never be able to keep Kara here with you. I figured you wanted to skip out with her and I so we could keep everyone together. I'm sorry, I don't understand." I shook my head in wonder, trying to figure out what this old woman wanted from me in the first place, especially if she didn't want to run.

She looked at me and patted my arm, "You just wait right here, I want to show you something." With that she walked out of the room and down the hall towards her bedroom.

As I stood there trying to figure out why she wanted me to meet her tonight, especially if she didn't want me to take Kara and hide out. I figured that knowing the circumstances with Ashley's death, the old woman just probably lost her grip on reality. Well, I would talk to her and between the two of us, maybe we could find some way of keeping little Kara here with her Great Grandmother.

I started to browse around the room looking at the pictures adorning the walls and resting on top of shelves and tables. One there reminded me of the love that I had for Ashley, it caused the tears to well again in my eyes.

It was of a much happier time last summer when she and I took Kara to an amusement park and had our picture taken together. God she was beautiful, my thumb stroking the side of the image's face. I could still smell her perfume if I closed my eyes thought about her. It was only yesterday, I was kissing her good night on the very porch that I entered the house in. I shook my head with sadness, placing the picture back in its place.

Feeling tightness within my chest and throat I picked up another picture of Ashley, the tears began to well up in my eyes causing my focus to become blurry. Using the backside of my uniform sleeve, I tried wiping away the tears. You can easily wipe a tear away, but you can never really remove the pain of a love taken so quickly and permanently from your life. Shaking I sat the picture back down and covered my eyes with my hand. With a deep and choking sigh, I labored to gain control of my emotions... I needed to be strong for Mrs. Patrick.

I could hear the woman rummaging around in the other room and wondered how she would plan Ashley's funeral; she would at least need my help with that. We would plan a beautiful funeral with vast amounts of flowers and lovely songs.

As I stood there waiting my eye caught the glowing vision of the little sphere, walking toward it, I marveled at the beauty of the changing colors. I couldn't take my eyes from the little ball, as it seemed to be alive. I pushed the photo's aside and moved my face closer toward the pretty colorful orb.

I knew that this must have been the little ball that the old woman dug from the trunk earlier but then it wasn't glowing... now it was incredibly beautiful. Aside from Ashley's great beauty, I had never seen anything so lovely and breathtaking before in my life.

My hand slowly went toward the object, carefully picking it up as though it were a fragile egg. I watched as the colors grew in intensity going from yellows, blues and pinks to darker blues, greens and reds. Just as quickly as I touched it, it seemed to slowly fade and become less illuminated. I rolled it over to see where the batteries were and once I couldn't find them I gently placed it back on the shelf. I hoped that I hadn't broken it since it was so lovely and wonderful to look at.

I found myself studying the shelves as I removed my hand from the little glass ball, I couldn't remember which shelf that I had gotten it off of. I wanted to set it down next to Ashley's photograph, but I thought I got it from a lower shelf. No, I was sure this was the shelf that it came from; I must have been mistaken on which shelf I removed it from. I waited there in the living room for the woman to return I found myself mindlessly humming a tune that popped into my head and wouldn't leave. I couldn't remember the words, just the tune.

I picked up a photo of Kara's that she got when she entered preschool, I smiled to myself as I could see her cute hair all curled and pretty. I shook my head thinking that I would never put her hair up like that again because by the end of the day it was a mess. But then, without the effort, I never would have gotten such a good picture of her.

Setting the photo back down I questioned myself of what I had just been thinking. I don't even remember helping her get ready but yet, the memory was as clear in my head as if it happened yesterday. Looking among the little mementos I found myself remembering things about some of them that there should be no way of me knowing... but still, I did.

I glanced up as I heard Grandma... er, Mrs. Patrick coming back into the room. She pulled up short as soon as she saw me, her eyes darting between me and the little glass ball. I watched as her frail little hands reached up toward her mouth, "Oh, Ashley... my God, it did work!"

I tried to figure out what she was saying when I noticed that she and I were close to the same height now - instead of me towering over her like I usually did. She stepped toward me and held my face in her withered hands studying me closely, I couldn't figure out why I would have thought that I towered over her, as she and I have always been the same height since puberty.

"Sit down dear, we need to talk." She pointed toward the big chairs. "What do you remember about today?"

Giggling at her question I smiled and tenderly patted her hand. "Well after I kissed Kara this morning, I headed off to work and... and..." I frowned as I couldn't remember anything else.

I found myself studying the enamel on my nails, when the outside door slammed shut. There was a young teen on the porch who waived and suddenly disappeared. Kara came rushing into the room shouting "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" She showed me a picture that she had drawn during her time at the neighbors; I smiled and held her close kissing her forehead. "It's for YOU Mommy, I drew it for you!"

I took the picture and showed it to Grandma, "She does a lovely job, doesn't she?"

I swelled with pride of my daughter. Then as that thought sunk in, I looked at the smiling child on my lap. I remembered the labor pains I had when I delivered her, how Grandma would keep getting ice for me to suck on when my mouth became dry from the breathing exercises. But how could I know that? I remembered getting the call when Ashley had the baby.

I looked up at Grandma, she could see my confusion. "I wanted to explain what my idea was before you actually changed. I never imagined it would be so complete." She opened up the book in her lap and turned it toward me.

I saw an old ink etching on yellowed parchment paper of a person holding a ball over what looked like a deceased person, the ball seemingly throwing glowing rays out from the holder's hand...

I looked at the book then back to her; all the while Kara prattled on about her drawing. Glancing back down at the artwork, I saw my sleek legs encased in pantyhose. Letting my eyes move up my body I could see a bit of exposed cleavage from the opening in my blouse. My hand went up toward my chest in shock. I looked toward Grandma and mouthed the word "Why?"

She asked Kara to go hang the art on the refrigerator, the child skipped down the hallway to the kitchen in eagerness. She slowly returned her eyes toward me again, "I didn't want it to happen like this, I never intended for you to find the Sphere of Life before I had a chance to explain."

She reached out and lifted a few long blonde strands out for me to see. "You... uh, Ashley was very lovely wasn't she? How was I going to tell the child about the death of her mother?" She asked. "At least now, you can help us by taking the place of Ashley... AND also be the mother to Kara!"

I let the words sink in, standing up I crossed the room and looked into the mantle mirror. I looked the same as I always had, I thought. But the more I dwelled on everything as a whole; I could remember being Brian as well. I was so confused.

Grandma appeared behind me in the mirror and placed her hand on my shoulder, "Let me see if I can explain this to you. By holding the sphere, Ashley’s soul was transported into your body. You take on the form of that person and your shell trades places with them."

I spun around and looked at her, "You mean Brian is now dead? I can't ever go back to being him?" the comment surprised me by referring to my former body as being someone else completely.

She looked away for a moment then back, "I'm afraid so. That body ceased to be when you took on the form of Ashley. But on the bright side, now Kara has her mother again."

Somehow I wasn't sure if that was a fair trade. I mean, helping out little Kara and Grandma was fine but poor, poor dear Brian... dead. I felt tears trail down my cheek. I keep thinking of Brian as someone else and Grandma and Kara as my own...the confusion was too much. "I think I'm getting a headache."

Grandma lifted my hand and pulled me back toward the chair. "I can't bring Brian back, he's gone for good. However, I can with one small sentence remove all remembrances of you being Brian from your mind. You will have known him, loved him and unfortunately, lost him as you did your dear beloved husband, Jack."

"My daughter will be fine?" I asked, surprised at how lovely my voice sounded but also how odd it was to be thinking of Kara as my daughter.
"She won't know the difference and if you wish neither will you." she smiled.

I leaned back watching how my breasts pushed out my blouse, "I don't think I could ever get used to this Grandma, maybe you should remove the old me from this body. At least, then I wouldn't lose my mind under this...this...gender confusion."

She nodded and opened up the book searching out the page. I glanced up and watched Kara enter in the room; I couldn't believe what was happening to me. Suddenly, I found myself pulling the child in with a hug as I cried from the loss of my dear Brian. Kara sensing something was wrong, raised my head up and asked, "What's wrong Mommy?"

How could I tell her that the second love of my life had died? I just buried my face in her little shoulder and cried.

Epilogue

We stood in the grass as the police color-guard raised their guns toward the sky, the retort of the rifles made me jump. I clutched Kara's tiny hand tighter and watched as the officers turned and started down the little hill leaving Kara and I alone to listen to the sad wailing sound of bagpipes. I dabbed my eyes with a tissue as I cried softly to myself. I didn't even have a chance to tell him about my news. God, he would have been so happy.

I lowered my hand to my stomach, I was certain of one thing... if it was a boy, I would name him Brian after his father.



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