Long time no post. Luckily, I have a few upcoming projects up my sleeve for this summer which I am very excited to share with you… just not at this very moment😉. For now, though, I invite you to enjoy May’s Reader of the Month article, called The Phoenix Effect, a post gargantuanly surpassing the number of words I have been able to squeeze into maybe two or three blog posts, let alone one, and is the inaugural entry of the fiction/fantasy genre in the Reader of the Month Program. I could not be prouder to introduce my friend Melissa’s wonderfully written addition to the world of literature. The Phoenix Effect, I’m certain, is bound to capture the attention of many talent-seeking publishers and agents, talent being something Melissa isn’t short of in the slightest. Don’t forget to like this blog post and leave a comment below in support this month’s Reader of the Month! Sadly, the program’s termination date -rather, month- is fast approaching, but availability ranges from the months of August to December, regarding submission ability. All you have to do is leave your email in the comments section below, and I will shoot you an informational email as soon as I can with more details about your submission! Alright, alright. My blabbering shall cease for the time being so your enjoyment of The Phoenix Effect can commence, to put it wordily. See you next time!
The Phoenix Effect
By: Melissa D.
When my parents died, Grandma was the first to take me and Amber in. No doubt about it, she loved us and she’d do whatever she needed to in order to keep us alive. After all, we are her granddaughters, it’s like there’s an invisible rope connecting us together, wherever we go Grandma goes and wherever Grandma goes we go. That’s why I walked down the church aisle this morning, right up to the very first row, that rope just kept pulling me along.
I shouldn’t be sitting on this creaky little wooden bench now, or ever for that matter. I shouldn’t be looking at the coffin of my dead grandma. I shouldn’t have to read a eulogy in a few minutes. And I shouldn’t have to watch my grandma’s lifeless body being lowered into the ground so that it can decompose in a matter of years. I shouldn’t have to. And maybe I don’t, maybe Grandma didn’t die and I’m not sitting on this bench with the plasticy layer peeling off. Maybe this is all just a dream and when it gets scary enough I’ll wake up, because this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening. Grandma wouldn’t leave me and Amber like this, helpless children with no other family to take them in, she wouldn’t do that. But I know she’s gone, I’m just teasing myself if I try to convince myself otherwise.
“Harper,” Amber whispers while shaking my shoulder. “It’s your turn, they just called you up.” The eulogy. The only one Grandma will ever get. I can’t mess this up. Not here, not in front of all these people, and I don’t have anything prepared. I’ll just have to make something up on the spot. All eyes are on me as I stand up and walk to the altar, my footsteps echoing through the building. I have to clear my throat to keep myself from crying. I know I have to do this and once I start talking everything else will fall into place, so I take a deep breath through my nose and begin.
“Standing in front of you today is the hardest thing I will ever have to do,” I say. “Words cannot describe the feelings of sorrow I have, knowing that I have to say goodbye to my grandmother,” my voice is shaking, and it’s undoubtedly noticeable. Get a grip, Harper.
“While trying to think of what to say once I got up here, all I could keep thinking is the word ‘optimistic’. My grandma always had a joke up her sleeve. She hated seeing people sad because then she’d feel sad without even knowing why. At my grandfather’s funeral a few years back, she should have been sad. After all, she’d lost her husband, hadn’t she? But instead she said to me ‘Don’t look so lifeless, that’s your grandfather’s job.’” I pause for a second and see a few people give a light laugh.
“My grandma is also the kind of person that would make a whole pot of lentil soup for you when you were sick. If you didn’t finish the whole thing, she’d make you sit there until it was gone and when you brought it up to the sink for her to wash it, she’d look you up and down and say something like ‘You know, it wouldn’t hurt to lose a few pounds.’” Again, pausing to see more people giggling. I have to take a deep breath before continuing, I know my voice will shake with what I say next.
“But aside from her positivity and jokes in even the saddest of times, my grandma was kind, a quality that not enough people have. She couldn’t bring herself to squash spiders and mosquitos when they would fly in the house during the summer because she knew that she had taken a life, no matter how small,” I was right, my voice is shaking again and my vision is becoming blurry from tears building up in front of my eyes. I see Amber in the front row sniffling and wiping away a tear of her own with a damp and ripped tissue.
“She was a nurse all her life. She wanted everyone to be happy. As probably all of you know, there’s a ring my grandma never took off and on the side it says her name, Phoenix. It reminded her of the bird, a phoenix and how she had to live like one, living fearless. That’s how when she saw even the worst injuries, she pulled herself together.” I feel my lip start to tremble. Oh God, not now. I have to wrap this up before I melt down in front of these hundreds of people, friends, relatives, even some of the patients whose lives she had saved.
“Grandma will never be forgotten. She’s changed too many people’s lives to be forgotten. I know this has been short, but let me say this as simply as I can. As we gather here to remember and mourn the life of a lively, delightful soul, we can’t forget all the memories we have that bring a smile to our faces and nostalgia to our hearts. I believe that once we let those moments be forgotten, we have truly lost her.” My throat is all choked up, I can barely breathe. I’d be surprised if anyone heard the last few words that I can manage to get out.
“It is with so much sadness that I am here today,” I have to clear my throat, otherwise I will, without doubt, sob. “But it is time to say farewell.”
I walk back down the altar steps, right up to where the mahogany wood coffin stands. I put a clammy hand on top of where her name is engraved in overly fancy cursive letters and whisper a small and choked up attempt at a “farewell.”
I walk back down the aisle to my row, containing a splotchy faced Amber, and sit down as far as I can from anyone. I want to be alone, I want this day and this service to be done already, and most importantly, I want to snuggle up in the safety of my blankets that block everything else in the world out at home with all of my favorite childhood toys and forget everything that has happened today. I make a mental note of this to myself when the priest begins to talk about how Grandma is in a better place and how we don’t have to be sad because one day we’ll see her again. I think he’s trying to comfort us, but he’s doing an atrocious job at it.
The priest is right though, one day we will be with Grandma again, except this time it’ll be six feet under, and this is the first time that I realize it, I don’t want to wait any longer. I want to be gone now. I want Grandma back. What surprises me the most is that I didn’t even feel this way about my parents. Sure I was upset when they died, but I was seven and I hardly even knew them, whereas I know everything there is to know about Grandma. Not just simple facts like her favorite color, but exactly what time she was born and the names of all of her friends in high school.
The priest continues talking while I stare into space. I remember how I never saw Grandma cry, not once, she was the bravest person I knew. I remember her smile and her laugh and how it was always contagious. Her hugs, she always gave me hugs when I was scared. They were always warm against my frigid skin. I can almost feel the warmth of her love. If only you were here now, Grandma, I think to myself. I could sure use a hug right now. I let my mind wander to when Grandma was alive, she always saw the best in me.
“Now Harper,” she said to me on the first day of kindergarten. “Whenever you feel nervous around the other kids, just remember that you have to be confident on the outside and that I will always pick you up at the end of the day. Two o’clock, on the dot.”
“But Grandma, what if they don’t like me?” I asked with worry in my voice.
“They will, honey, don’t worry,” she would reply. “You’re going to make lots of friends.” she would reply with a comforting smile. “And do you want to know a secret?” she would say with a wry grin.
“A secret?” I gasped, covering my mouth with my hands. “I want to hear the secret! Tell me, Grandma! I wanna know!”
“Okay, but you can’t tell anyone else,” she bent down to whisper in my ear. “All of these other kids are just as scared as you. Look, that little girl over there is crying. Why don’t you go over there and talk to her now that you know our little secret? Just hold your head high and she’ll want to play with you. Promise.”
“Okay, Grandma, I’m gonna go make friends,” I said eagerly with a wide grin over my face and ran over to the crying girl. She introduced herself as Madison. Grandma was right, that girl ended up being my best friend. She was here today, and although only family is supposed to sit in the first few rows, Madison was in the row behind me. She was like family to Grandma, sometimes it even seemed that she liked Grandma more than me since they always had long conversations about what it was like when Grandma was our age.
I remember the day that we met perfectly, her dark brown hair
I snap out of my daze and remember that Grandma is irrevocably gone. I shouldn’t be teasing myself with these memories and I lock them away in a part of my mind where I’ll never reach them. I should have been paying more attention to the service. I hadn’t even realized that it had ended. Almost everyone has cleared out of the church by now. They all must have decided to let me stare at the wall, not wanting to disrupt a traumatized girl. I look over my sholder to hear Amber and Madison talking in hushed voices. Madison looked up and started speed walking towards me.
“Harper,” she said in a fierce whisper. “Come on it’s time to go. We have to leave for the cemetery. We spent too much time here watching you stare at nothing. Nobody wanted to disturb you, it looked like you were doing some serious thinking and honestly, it’s probably best you get it all out before the burial.” She tried to help me up by my elbow in an attempt to rush me, but I refused. “Harper, what are you doing? You wouldn’t want to be late. Come on, it is really time to go,” she tried again. I stayed where I was and looked past her, my eyes dead. Amber chimed in.
“Harper, please,” she practically begged. “You’re making me worried. Please come along.” Just like Amber, always worrying about me, even now when it’s officially my job to be concerned about her. Amber was always the worrying type; she was always worried about everyone around her, yet in a rather mensch way. Her heart was soft, kind. When Grandma-I wince at letting myself think the name, not wanting to bring back tears because I know that if I open my mind to the past, my eyes will be no more than slits, my chin crinkled up, and my nose a waterfall. Crying isn’t pretty on the outside, your eyes swell and your nose runs. But it is cathartic and cleansing on the inside. It’s as though all that is bad is being washed away by the flood of tears.
When Grandma-I wince again-first took us in after our parents passed, I was seven and Amber was three. I blocked everyone and everything out and I would have to be literally dragged into the kitchen to get me to eat. In other words, I was an outright mess. Amber, as young as she was, knew how much of a mess I was.
“Hawpur,” she would say in her adorable baby accent, knocking on our shared bedroom door and begging me to come out. “Awe you okay, Hawpur?” She’d then come in and wrap her chubby arms around me. “I love you, Hawpur. Mommy and Daddy will come back soon!” I’d shove her away, just like I did everyone else, but there was something about her innocence that made me believe that everything might actually be okay.
“Earth to Harper,” Madison says, waving her hand in front of my eyes. She gives me a sympathetic look once I come back to reality.
“Sorry,” I say, shaking my head to get rid of the memory. “I’ve kind of been all over the place today.”
“Mm,” she replies. “Tell me about it. Well, we’d better be getting to the cemetery. We’ve spent too much time here as it is.” I look up and make eye contact with her for the first time today. I study her face. She looks tired, almost bored, even. Her mouth in a straight and tight line, the corners of her eyes pointing downward. Although I can tell she’s trying to hide it, I can tell she misses Grandma just as much as I do and clearly on the verge of tears. She knows that she can’t afford to cry though, she has to be strong for me and Amber.
“Come on,” Madison urges me. “Since you clearly don’t care if you miss the burial, I do so let’s get a move on,” She takes me by the arm and gestures for Amber to take my other. The three of us start towards the church door. I stop in the middle of my tracks.
“No,” I said. “I want to go home.”
About the Author: Melissa D. grew up in a small town in the United States where she still resides. In her free time she likes to play softball and read her favorite books. The Phoenix Effect is her first novel and hopes to get it published soon!