White Dahlias

Deft fingers worked along his shirt, sliding the simple buttons into their snugly fitting homes. He smoothed down the white cotton, tucking it into the waistband of his pants, before tightening his belt. He flipped up his collar and slipped the slim blue tie about his neck: a slice of crystalline blue down his chest. He double-checked his appearance in the mirror before he slipped into his blazer and fastened the buttons. He brushed back his silvery hair, adjusted the cuffs of his shirt, and gave his reflection an approving nod. Today he was going to visit his daughter.

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The wind held the crisp, fresh scent of a new autumn, putting a spring in his step as it conjured a smile to his face. This city had been his home, long ago. But over time, he had abandoned it in favor of a place uncluttered with painful memories. It had been more years than he liked to count since the last time he had been here, since he had seen his dear little girl. She was so cute then. He wondered what she would look like now, if she would be as beautiful as her mother.

He rounded another corner, light blue eyes sweeping along the street and catching sight of a brightly painted wagon. Overflowing with vibrant swathes of flowers, the cart was drowning under a rainbow. A stark splotch of white stood out from the red and yellow around it: the dahlia petals like folds of satin. He paused, staring at the flowers. He remembered giving them to his daughter on her birthdays, the way her face lit up as she giggled and scooped them up into her arms. He strode closer, smiling at the woman as he purchased a bouquet of the satin flowers. She wrapped them in a bright, clear blue reminiscent of his little girl’s eyes.

The father tucked the bouquet into the crook of his arm and kept walking, only slowing when he had to navigate through other groups traveling more slowly. He watched the city as he moved through it, dodging and weaving through the other citizens as he journeyed. He kept his mind off his destination and what was waiting on the other side of the city, just past the main gates. The churning in his stomach continued as he walked; the nervousness building with every step he took. He had fought wars, spent years inside palace walls and golden ballrooms, battled with friends and brothers, and lost everything he had. But this visit was more nerve-wracking than all his adventures.

The sight of the tall wrought iron gate that rose up on his left dragged him back to reality. The towering spires twisted with age and weathered from storms. The designs twisted in black trails like winding serpents, interwoven in an elegant dance. He smiled at the gate, slipping through it and into the grove that lay beyond. Walking more slowly now, nervousness weighed him down like an anchor around his neck, causing his heart to flutter and his steps to falter. His is only real memories were snippets from their life together before the war. She had been such a delicate child, his little china doll, but she had been brave.

He stopped when he saw her, heart skipping several beats, eyes brimming with tears. He tried to hold them back, to contain his emotions, to keep everything buried beneath his tough skin. But upon seeing her, he failed. All the years they had been apart came rushing back to his mind and staggered, trembling. He kept his legs under him though, stumbling until he was standing in front of her, a hesitant smile forming on his lips.

“Hello again.”

The headstone was simple, her name and the likeness of the same flowers he had brought her the only adornment. The granite was darker now than when he had first buried her, first wept over her grave and wished her back again. He had not seen her since then, unable to face that simple headstone and all its finality. For the first time, he had been a coward, and it was his own daughter that bore witness. He laid the flowers gently below the headstone, brushing his fingers along the engraving that spelled her name Cecilia Voronoff.

There was so much he had imagined saying, had wanted to say. But words would be meaningless now, spoken by an old man out of time to an empty cemetery and a grave without a soul. They would bring no comfort to him or to his daughter, and so he remained silent. He did not have to whisper his guilt to a granite stone to beg for forgiveness that it could not grant.

He smiled again, wiping at his eyes as he stood and straightened his jacket. His final task was complete: to give his daughter white dahlias for her birthday one last time. At last, he had come to see her, to say goodbye, and he knew she would not judge his short visit or lack of eloquent speeches. He touched a kiss to his fingertips, placed it atop the grave, and walked away briskly, without a backward glance.

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