January 1st
Leah Schnelbach


The boy breathed in air thick with flowers. He held the breath while he thought of what to say. He tasted lilies.

“Once upon a time.”

He looked down at the still face. He looked back up at the ceiling. The plaster was patterned into crosses, each arm meeting in a flower. He stared at the petals so long it began to look like they were unfolding, blooming above him.

He looked back down at the sleeping face and smiled.

“A magical unicorn lived in a land where flowers floated in the air. If it touched you with its horn you would grow wings like a dragonfly and be able to fly. As fast as you wanted. As fast as you can imagine. Without getting tired or hungry, or.”

No, this one wasn’t good enough.

“A water nymph. Lives in a clear pool. If you bring her flowers she’ll lead you to a mystical fountain, and one drop from it will make you immortal. Only people who have proved themselves. One day you staggered through the wood, collapsed on the bank of her pool, and she told you she could lead you to the fountain, and your youth would be restored. But that was a trick—the truly noble thing, you knew, was to refuse the offer.”

This time he covered his eyes, and waited as long as he could, and then looked through the gap between his ring and middle finger. He had to get it right.
“Once there was a boy who grew up with a dad who wasn’t his real dad, but it never mattered. He always knew his dad loved him. Every night he told the best bedtime stories—they were so epic that whenever he had a sleepover the other kids used to ask for them too, until everybody got too old for it. Sometimes even after that. The dad never teased him for it. The stories just got better until.”

The boy heard a knock. He turned and saw the funeral director leaning into the room.

“It’s time, son,” he said. “They’re waiting.”

“Another minute?”

The funeral director gave him a sad, merciless smile.

The young man swallowed a sweet clot of air. He didn’t realize it that day, but he would hate flowers for the rest of his life.

“Of course.”

As the director retreated, the young man heard him say to his assistant, “You’ll need to prep this room right away. Always more in January.”

The young man looked down again at the wax face.

He saw movement and felt each of his joints lurch at once—but it was a bee. A bee, somehow, a stowaway from the flowers, walking up his father’s tie. He couldn’t let it reach his father’s face.

The young man pressed a Mass card against his father’s chin, angling the thick paper to make a cup. The bee stepped in, and the boy froze.

What now? Move the bee to a bouquet and it died slowly, trapped in this room. Crush it? How long did bees live?

But how could he kill something now? Today?

He heard the assistant knocking on the doorframe again, trying to be polite. Gentle. The young man stood still as the insect began to buzz.

 

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