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Asters

Paige Stegina | Managing Editor


Freepix / anetkisart


As the sun rose that morning above the world’s earth and forests, deep ocean and endless highways, towering cities and marvels of architecture, suburban towns and urban alleyways, no one knew this day would be the last. Once the announcement was made by the Executioner, it was another doomed, hopeless story on the morning news that for once, no one could ignore. The announcement was short, simple, unconditional, and absolute. By the end of this day, a weapon of mass destruction with enough power to destroy the entirety of humanity would be deployed. In short, it was the end.

You can see the news stations attempting to weave a story of hope, redemption, of humanity’s ability to survive despite the odds. Conflicts were placed on hold as for once, the governments worked together, for once, with the sole goal of tomorrow’s sunrise. To the press, a combination of, We will arise from this stronger than before and no comments. Any and every individual who had a shred of influence taking to the viral networks, desperately pleading with this Executioner not to press that button. But it was no use. And once everyone knew that this was truly the end…

Then came the scramble. You can see it now, the people running, panicking. The thrown elbows for the last seat in the old church on the corner of the street that they never even considered going to until this moment. Those that saw the doomed world and brought their own fire to it, others grabbing the items that would give life value if they were to see the next day. The hastily spread rumors of secure bunkers and the highways with traffic so thick that all one could hear was the honking of horns, rapidly fired insults, distant gunfire.

When it came down to it, there was nothing that anyone could do. It was done. What I question is why the Executioner gave humanity an entire day. Some would say that it was a miscalculation while setting the clock, a mere oversight made in the final decision. I suppose the true reason lies with the Executioner. He needed to observe that even in humanity's last moments, that they fell into the same routine that ultimately led to their destruction. To, for the final time, observe the wheel of pain, violence, futile resistance, and unapologetic self survival that was inevitable with humanity. I believe that this is what he expected, and maybe even what he needed to press the button in the end. However, even in the darkest moments of humanity’s last, there was some semblance of hope.

Far off any map that the technology in your hand could find, there is a house. Two stories, simple logs, circular windows. Out front, there is a garden, carefully planted and lovingly cared for. There is no clear organization to the garden, a lack of any type of rows or markers, but the bright greens and vibrant colors still hold strong against the crisp air. The vines reach towards the walkway, the fruit beckoning to all that pass. There are bean bushes that lay behind it, a bouquet of yellow, purple, and greens. The uncontrollable lilac bush has taken root just to the right of the stone staircase, the scent overpowering but in a way that whispers to you to take one step closer. I will not record all the types of flowers, the natural rainbow in the yard, for there are too many to recall.

Most of the garden appears to be chaos, but there is one common pattern, if you take the time to sit on the bench with the engraved word smile off to the side. There may be a clump of a certain plant in one area, but you will never see it in any other place in the garden. The cucumbers have their place and the tomatoes have theirs. The daisies rule over their domain while the witch hazel watches from the edge. But I will mention the asters. The asters are the only flower that you can find everywhere in the garden. The clump of blue ones by the pumpkin plant on the left and the single pink one near the ivy climbing up the side of the house. They peak out behind the plants, a silent smile as you near the hard oak door.

The couple inside the house is just settling into their nightly routine. They knew the end was upon them. They woke this morning like they always had every other morning before. As soon as the news found them, they turned off their television and moved to the kitchen for their morning breakfast routine. They did move the chairs a little closer, reaching out for the other more, whispering the words that they held onto with every passing breath. They took that extra helping of pancakes and bacon that they talked themselves out of every other morning.

Now, the large window offered a full view of the sunset over the shadow laden lake, the bright colors absorbed by the watery depths. The rays spread out far, as if memorizing this earth before it left for the last time. The aroma of freshly baked bread and cookies swirled in the air along with the crooning of the record player in the corner. She took the pair of empty mugs of hot chocolate and placed them in the sink, not caring to clean them and place them in their neat corner of the pine cabinet overhead. He walked in from the door, freshly cut asters in his hand, a bouquet of white, purple, blue and pink. He handed them to her, gently, carefully. She smiled, despite the wetness growing in her eyes as she took them from him. He took the top from one and carefully placed it through her hair and behind her ear. She placed the asters on the table, quickly wiping her eyes as they made their way in front of the couch, watching the water caress the descending sun. The corners of his mouth turned upwards as she moved in front of him, her arm extended, her hand open.

“Will you dance with me?”

“Always.”

They held each other close, swaying to no rhythm but their own. Her laughs drowned out the sounds of the record player, the purest music of the moment her own. His eyes shone as he looked at her, the world reduced to her and only her. Because in that last moment, she was all that mattered. The memories of their life surrounded them, and with every turn, every sway, they relieved their life together.

On the top of the bookshelf sat a dusty, worn business card to the bookstore on Tower Hill with a carefully written phone number on the back “So you can tell me if you like the book.”

The dried asters in the vase on top of it. “A new beginning.”

On top of a book, a receipt from Joe’s Coffee, one coffee, black, no sugar, one salted caramel hot chocolate, extra whip. One cinnamon roll, extra glaze. One carrot cake. “There’s too many desserts to just choose one. You need to get two and try both.”

The ceramic pot on the countertop that once housed fresh asters. “I promise that I will never cut flowers for you. Why cut flowers when you can keep the plant?”

The bookmark in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe made from ticket stubs from a drive-in movie theater. “What do you mean you have never seen The Breakfast Club?”

The program of a play in New Haven. “It’ll be fun, I promise.”

A flier to a Comic Con hung up on the wall.“Our definitions of fun are very different.”

A framed picture of two smiling faces with bleacher seats at a Yankees game. “Compromise.”

In the open cabinet, stolen tumbler glasses from Greasy Gill’s. “That’s totally stealing!”

A mini golf card. “I don’t know how, but you cheated.”

Matching hand woven bracelets. “So we will always have a piece of the other.”

A pressed leaf. “I don’t ever want to leave this moment.”

A notebook, not one page filled. “Why do you need another notebook when you have at least five at home?”

A fortune, rolled up and tied with a small red ribbon. “I don’t need to open this to know what my future holds.”

A pair of ice skates. “We at least need to try!”

An invitation to a gingerbread house party. “Gingerbread, family, kids, and a whole bunch of sugar. What could go wrong?”

Silver loop earrings. “They’re beautiful…”

A copy of Lion Witch and the Wardrobe. “Trust me on this one.”

$2 party hats. “Three...Two...One…”

A single blue and black puzzle piece. “So we never need to finish it.”

An oversized Yankee sweatshirt. “I hope you didn’t want this back.” A handmade red and white card with a love note inside. “Only you.”

A mixtape with all their favorites. “We need more than just one song.”

The first bill with two names. “Together. We figure it out together.” A lopsided birdhouse splattered with paint. “It’s not that bad, is it?”

A poster for a Haunted House. “Are you kidding? You’re the scaredy cat!”

Handwritten thank you cards for attending the Harrison Thanksgiving. “It meant so much to her.”

A one year anniversary candle. “To us.”

A copy of The Breakfast Club. “I knew you’d liked it.”

A good luck note written on a post it. “You got this!”

A small stuffed turtle. “He’s cute! That’s why we should get him.” A receipt from the restaurant that was too expensive. “From the moment I met you, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.”

The dried match they kept in the corner as a silent reminder of what they endured. “You hurt me and I'm not sure if I can forgive you.”

A ring, not worn on the finger, but on a silver chain. “Closer to my heart.”

The files in the cabinet. “You sure we want to do this?”

The resignation letter. “We’re free.”

The photo of the bookstore, sold sign in the window, “Do you remember the first day we met?”

The blueprints of the log cabin. “If we’re doing this, we’re doing it right.”

A drawer filled with business cards. “Seriously, how many people does it take to build a house?” 

The first seed packet. “To our new life.”

A photo album of the last harvest. “We made it.”


It was then that the button was pressed. In the end, I do not think that the Executioner was much different than anyone else in the world. He was born, he breathed the air of this Earth, and then, in the end, he would die. It was not a decision that he took lightly to take the rest of the world with him. I suppose that is another story. Nonetheless, in those last moments, he could only see humanity’s destruction even before he pressed the button in front of him. In his last moments, he understood that the cycle that had brought him to that point would not stop. Maybe he thought that if it was not him, it would be another. And perhaps if the course of his life had been different, he would not have pressed that button. Maybe it would have been different if he was born in another time, or if he could have seen that couple in the woods. Even so, this is not the story of the Executioner. It is not even the story of the life of the couple in the house. This is the story of what tomorrow would have given the couple in the woods.

There they stood in the house they had built, in the life that they shared with each other. The items of their past comforted them as they swayed. They did not look at the clock as the seconds dwindled and the bomb made it’s way to their door. In those last few minutes, they remembered their past, but held onto their future. If they had been given the chance to make it to sunrise, what would their life have gifted them? They saw it clearly, the two of them in their last moments. Surrounded by their past, they only saw the future. Their future. Of course, their life would have been filled with challenges, trials, hurt, and heartbreak, but they saw the only thing that would have mattered to them in the end. The future tomorrow that was filled with unconditional happiness and love.

The white dress, no frills, no lace.

The bouquet of asters.

The tickets back home to their wood, for no other place could be a better paradise then the one they created themselves.

The pacing of the floor as he reads her work. So? Is it worth more than a penny?

The shared adventure of the book tour, a new city everyday. There’s still no place like home.

The time apart, a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, and the three longest days spent apart. Promise me we'll never fight again. Never again. 

An ultrasound.

A new extension to the house, built with their own blood, sweat and tears. You thought the Ikea furniture was difficult.

The crib, built with her own hands and her father’s tools.

The young life that was now his own voyager.

The puppy to bring up alongside him, an unconditional friend.

Sleepless nights. Changing diapers. Letting the dog out.

Long walks on the paths he cleared along the side of the lake.

Red and green lights, small snowy buildings in the fireplace, a pine tree shimmering, the dog curled on the carpet, presents with handwritten tags, overflowing into the living room. It needs to be special.

Late night hours in the office surrounded by the bookshelves that held the heroes of her imagination as she created her own.

The bee colony, his new project.

Little party hats and a Mickey Mouse cake. Happy birthday, little bird.

The maple sap lines, darting in between the trees.

First steps across the carpet, first words dada, mama, pup.

Another book with her name on the cover to put on the shelf. Front and center, as always.

The lease on a small store in town, maple syrup, honey, and books. We can do this.

A cat, brought home late after a day playing in the woods by the boy and the dog.

The anniversary, spaghetti, meatballs, asters.

A tent to sleep outside under the stars.

New backpack, sharpened pencils, grinning smile. Hope in his eyes. Working in the garden, honey bee collapse, maple syrup.

A new book, this one a long time coming. The book she could not write until this moment but the one she longed to tell since she bought that first notebook in the first grade.

Worn backpack, lost pencils. Same smile with a diploma in one hand, the other arm around his love. Hope for the path the voyage ahead.

Another harvest, growing every season.

Dinners watching the sun set. A visit to the doctors. Bad news, but curable. You don’t get to leave me.

A happy phone call. Grandparents? 

The crib passed down. For the beginning of a new story.

Every year that passed, love grew, stronger than any bond that can be created in their world. More moments, more items, more life. Living. The final aster passed between their shared hands as there was a last breath. The future that would never be.


In their house, they danced in their living room. The sun continued to fall over the water. It wouldn’t be long now. But they had experienced their life in those few seconds. She relaxed into his embrace, and his forehead rested on her head. As the last rays of light touched the surface of our world, spreading thin against the surface of the water, they did not dwell on the reality of tomorrow. In that moment they experienced everything. Although it was their last, it was a moment filled with closure. Happiness,

joy,

lov…


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