"Penelope"  is a Flash Fiction story by Susana K. Marsch inspired by THE MAGICAL NORDIC TAROT: Five of Cups
“Penelope” is a Flash Fiction story by Susana K. Marsch inspired by THE MAGICAL NORDIC TAROT: Five of Cups

Margot inserted the key in the lock and choked back the tears. She took a deep breath, feeling the gloom inside the now empty house, once warm and welcoming, and always smelling of cookies. Grandma Penny loved to bake, and Margot had eaten the last cookie of what would be Grandma’s final batch that morning. Had she known it would be Grandma’s last cookie, she might have savored it more. She dreaded to turn the key; she dreaded the emptiness.

The soft lull of the ocean lapped at the pebble beach behind Grandma’s house, and she pictured Grandma sitting on the widow’s walk, overlooking the vast ocean and knitting. Grandma always knitted on the widow’s walk, and Margot could not recall ever seeing the finished project.

With a heavy heart and quivering lips, Margot pushed open the door. Shadows and silence reigned inside the hallway. Silver moonlight streamed through the French windows that opened to the beach behind the house. Grandma always said she had no use for gardens, the ocean was the love of her life.

Margot fumbled for the light switch. She flicked it, and the bulb sputtered once, then died. Margot pressed her lips together and closed the front door. The shadows on the wall wavered. She paused at the stairs and gazed upwards. In her mind, she followed Grandma’s footsteps to the widow’s walk.

“The ocean has my heart,” she recalled Grandma’s sweet voice rocking back-and-forth on the narrow platform overlooking the ocean.

She turned towards the living room, cloaked in shades of black and silver, and gazed out of the French windows. The view took her breath away. The ocean gleamed like a sparkling mirror in the full moon’s light, so bright it almost blinded her and seemed to shine on its own. The moon was low in the sky, getting ready for sleep, and stars above it twinkled in hues of silver and gold.

Margot wished she could stay in this moment and in this darkness and forget the coming days. Were it up to her, she would have helped Grandma up to the widow’s walk and sat her down on her rocking chair and let her take her last breaths by the ocean she loved so much.

“The love of my life is the ocean,” Grandma whispered, and Margot’s eyes filled up with tears.

But her brother had called the ambulance and now Grandma lay in a hospital bed sedated and spending the last day of her life surrounded by muted voices and beeping machines. That Grandma was dying was certain and her parents had asked her to bring Grandma’s old rosary. Margot dreaded the mission; she knew where the rosary was, but was wary of rummaging in Grandma’s things.

Margot took one last glance at the beautiful ocean and flipped on the stair light switch. The lightbulb went out with a yellow spark. Margot sighed, and felt her way in the darkness, clinging to the handrail and relying on muscle memory.

Upstairs, moonlight glowed through the windows; Grandma never covered the windows that overlooked the ocean.

The lightbulb in the bedroom was also blown, but the moonlight shone on the nightstand, and glinted off the rosary lying upon its surface. A locket dangling beside the crucifix caught the waning rays of the setting moon and plunged the room into a kaleidoscope of gold and silver.

With tears rolling down her cheeks, Margot grabbed it and left the house. The moon set as she opened the front door and cast one last glance at the old house, now veiled in darkness. She locked the door and outside the world twinkled in starlight; behind the house, the ocean waves murmured their goodbyes. Margot lifted her gaze to the sky and marveled at the brightness of the Milky Way meandering across it.

“Excuse me,” a low voice spoke beside her.

A young man in a sailor’s uniform faced her. Starlight shrouded him, and he seemed to glow in silver and gold.

“Does Miss Penny Otis still live here?”

Tears sprung yet again to Margot’s eyes, “Yes.”

The young man beamed and placed his palm over Margot’s fist, still gripping the rosary.

“Tell her I’ve come,” he said.

Margot glanced down at her hand and wanted to tell the young man Grandma Penny was dying, but when she looked up, he was gone. Margot wiped the tears from her eyes and hurried to the hospital with the rosary still clutched in her hand.

As she rushed through the hallway bathed in garish electric light, a nurse jostled her, and the rosary flew from her hand. It clanged on the floor and Margot scrambled for it. The locket had opened, and in the glaring and sanitized lamplight, Margot noticed the black-and-white photograph of the young man she had just met.

“The ocean has my heart,” Grandma whispered, “the love of my life lies in the ocean.”


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