Happy Birthday, Carol Le Fleur

Happy Birthday, Carol Le Fleur

 

She sat on the edge of the bed staring at the floor. Shame gripped her in a chokehold and threatened to squeeze what little life remained from her. She was worn out from all the skirmishes she had fought for the past several years; on her own behalf, most assuredly, but mostly on behalf of her beloved.

What little strength she retained after her battle with shame was being slowly drawn from her by self-doubt; an accuser who beset her almost as often and easily as intense as the shame she felt.

“What would she say if she saw me?” Carol lifted her head and stepped up to the dresser; the mirror almost inviting a challenge. She bit her lip and looked down once again, but at her body instead of the floor. Her hands appeared pale; even in contrast to her white robe. The draft from the partially opened window across from the bed caused small bumps to rise on her arms and legs.

There remained one final accuser: guilt; defined by what choices had been. She did remember to ask, didn’t she? The guilt was only as new as the events that bore all the other bad feelings into existence; she felt that she did not deserve to live life to the fullest, as the saying goes. A bare existence where her own dreams and hopes would remain unfulfilled since she had done little to assure that those longings would bless another. And of course, the big one loomed over all the other negativity in her life, as if it was the foreman in some perverted misery project.

“Carol? Don’t do this. You don’t have to do anything; in fact, it would be an obscene insult to continue. Stop! Stop.” The voice shouted down any and all of the voices with Carol that begged forgiveness and promised hope and shouted in defiance of the sad, mean, ugly words that guilt screamed daily.

But the most powerful voices of all; a trio of truth that spoke and sang and shouted over all the other voices in the unnecessary but expected debate.

Faith; an abiding trust that seemed to calm Carol and reassure her that belief was the reality and fear was the falsehood.

Forgiveness; both from a loving god and a departed soul; the two sang a duet for the ages.

And hope sustaining the only remaining strength in Carol’s heart. The deep-down belief that whatever force that created her would not abandon her. Soprano, Mezzo, and her own too-deep Alto still blended in such a harmony as to lift all souls within the nearness of the song.

She walked to the dresser and removed some items and then a dress; the light charcoal iridescent. She walked back to the bed and laid them down reverently.

“No….you can’t….it’s a disgrace,” Shame seemed to strike out viciously at her; its voice a strangely familiar sound as her mother’s words accused her.

Slowly, she began clothing herself in the items she had gathered.

“You don’t deserve to be happy!” The voice sounded so much like her friends who remembered that it was Carol who survived. And of course,

“It’s your fault, you know! God’s punishment!” Most of her friends and even several from her church had supported her recent decision. But when you live in a symbiotic relationship with insecurity, it only takes one voice…one voice to shatter confidence. One voice to question sincerity and integrity. And only once voice to condemn out of hand.

She finished dressing by stepping carefully into the dark grey pumps. Straightening the scarf around her neck, she nodded at the reflection in the mirror. Reasonable facsimile? Not even close. Everything that should have been addressed years ago was painfully obvious now. She shrugged her shoulders only slightly in an ‘oh well’ gesture. She was glad that in all these years, she’d been a ‘natural’ girl. No mascara or liner to run as the sting of the accusations threatened to overcome the trio, but in her heart she still had that inner strength. She grabbed her purse off the bed and stepped out of the bedroom and walked slowly down the hall. As she got to the living room, she noticed that her escorts were patiently waiting her arrival. And she heard a gasp.

“Oh, dear god!” The girl put her hand to her mouth, not in embarrassment or shame or disgust, as Carol had feared, but merely in surprise. She was joined quickly by the other girl in the room, who seemed to do a counter melody consisting entirely of soft weeping. Carol walked over and held her arms out in a hug.

“You….you look….okay,” her daughter Marie said softly; a true statement. Carol would never remotely resemble a celebrity or a model, but there was also a calm steadiness in her appearance. She looked her age, and hardly looked her ‘birth’ gender. Trisha looked up from her tears and smiled, giving Carol thumbs up.

“The limo will be here in about a half hour. If you hurry,” Marie said, half-teasing, “you can change.”

“I think she’s done about all the changing she’s gonna do, sis!” Trisha laughed a bit as she wiped away her tears.

“I know people don’t do stuff like this normally, but I want a picture.” Trisha said as she noticed their reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. She grabbed Marie’s left hand and placed it in Carol’s right hand. She stepped to the other side, and a moment later they had taken a few photos; two very attractive women in their fifties alongside a smart looking seasoned citizen.

A short while later a knock came at the front door. A man in a livery uniform stood with his left arm gesturing toward the limousine.

Almost two hours later the three sat in uncomfortable folding metal chairs as a warm wind and rain swept gently across their faces. Carol looked up as the woman finished speaking. She stepped close to Carol and the women beside her and said plainly,

“I’m so sorry, Carol….” The woman’s nostrils flared and tears came to her eyes.

“But now….going forward? I’m so happy for you. Better late than never.” Marie and Trisha hugged Carol’s arms as the wind began to pick up, leaving the rain to angle down swiftly, despite the tent covering the seats

“Vivienne Marie Le Fleur, 1943 — 2015, Beloved Wife and Mother,” Trisha read the words from the plaque leaning against the chair beside her.

“Do you think she…” Carol stammered.

“Oh, of course she knows…and she’s glad. And we are, too.” Marie smiled at Carol while gripping her and her sister’s hands tightly.

“Yes we are. Happy Birthday.” She kissed Carol’s cheeks, tasting the salt of her tears.

“Yes, Happy Birthday. I don’t know if I can manage to call you Mom just yet, and I sure can’t call you Daddy anymore. Can I call you Carol?” Marie asked. The woman gazed at the grave and nodded her head, communing in a way with her late wife before saying quietly,

“Carol would be just fine.”



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This story is 1220 words long.