It was 11:59 p.m., and it was almost Aries Whitmans’ 98th birthday.
The old woman lay in bed listening to the steady beeping of the monitor beside her and grimaced. On a table opposite the monitor, there was a glass of water and some pills the nurse had left to ease the pain in her joints, but today Aries wouldn't take them. Today, she didn't want to feel numb. She wanted to feel how old she had become, feel the age in her joints and see it in the way her skin stretched taut against the bones in her fingers. She touched a shaky hand to her face, felt the bags beneath her eyes and played with the wrinkles that traced the width of her frown.
It was a minute before her birthday, and she lay in the hospital bed, cold and alone. Aries sighed and closed her eyes. How did it come to this? The old woman thought about her life and all the mistakes she had made along the way, and as the clock struck midnight, she wished she could go back and change things. She wished wasn't alone.
Suddenly, squeaks of joy filled the old woman's ears and when she opened her eyes, she found herself not in the dingy hospital, but in a bright and beautiful park by the water.
Children rushed past her as she sat on a wood bench, and a few feet away, a group of parents chattered away while they set a colorful cloth over a picnic table and blew up pink and green balloons.
Aries immediately knew where she was, and as she sat on that bench, she scanned the playground looking for the familiar face of a little girl with ringlet curls and bright grey eyes.!It took several minutes, but she finally spotted her. The child couldn't have been anymore than five years old, but she was already taller than more of the kids her age. She was one of those kids who was an old soul trapped in a young body, but she was also wild.
Aries watched as the girl ran around the playground in bare feet and ripped overalls, and smirked as she threw herself down a tube slide. Like a bowling ball knocking over pins, she toppled several children who waited for her at the bottom and then let out a contagious laugh of delight. Aries watched as the kids followed suit and squeaked with laughter before encouraging her to go again, but before the little girl could bounce back to the top of the slide, her mother called.
“Kids, put on your shoes and get over here. It's time for presents!” A slender woman called from a picnic table just a few feet away. Almost immediately, the children darted towards her, all except the two, the girl with the ringlet curls and a little boy with hair straighter than a pin.
His name was Donnie, and he was one of those kids that was easy to miss. The quiet type, he rarely put himself out there to be noticed, but as the girl idled to find her shoes, he did the same and lingered just a few feet behind her, hiding under the shadow of the slide.
Carefully, Aries gathered herself and wobbled over to where the little boy sat, pulling up pretty white flowers instead of pulling on his shoes.
“Who are those flowers for?” Aries asked. Surprised by her presence, he dropped them and whipped around to face her. His tiny little face turned red with embarrassment and for a moment, his eyes darted to the little girl with the curly hair, and then back at the old woman.
“N-No one,” Donnie stammered.
“Oh come now, no need to be shy.” Aries wished she could pick the flowers up off the ground, but knew that bending over was not a task that her back could handle anymore. “Are they for a certain little girl with curly hair?” She asked him.
Once again, his face turned red and he shuffled his feet and nodded.
“Do you like her?” Aries asked. Donnie nodded again.
“Well, why don't you give them to her? I'm sure she will like them.”
“No, they're stupid,” Donnie blurred out suddenly.
Aries pouted her lips and decided to test the strength of her back, bending slightly to pick up the flowers. She felt a sharp crack in her lower spine, and pushed for a moment, but when no pain followed, she continued.
“No girl will think flowers this pretty are stupid,” she said as she gathered them in her hands and struggled to straighten back up. “I promise you, she will love them.”
Donnie looked up into the old woman's grey eyes and frowned.
“You think so?” He asked as he took the tiny bouquet from her long and wrinkly fingers.
“I know so.” Aries replied. She watched as he glanced at the flowers, and then glanced back at her, then with a renewed vigor, he puffed up his chest and stomped over to the girl just as she finished putting on her shoes.
Aries watched him present the flowers and smiled, then closed her eyes...
It was 11:59 p.m., and it was almost Aries Whitman’s 98th birthday.
The old woman opened her eyes to find herself in bed listening to the steady beeping of the monitor beside her. On a table opposite the monitor, there was a glass of water and some pills the nurse had left to ease the pain in her joints, but today Aries didn't need them. She felt different somehow. She touched a shaky hand to her face, felt the bags beneath her eyes, and played with the wrinkles that traced the width of her lips.
Aries glanced at the clock above her door and watched the minute hand tick, tick, tick away, and at midnight, to her surprise, a wrinkled old man walked into the room with a bouquet of white flowers.
“Donnie?” She exclaimed in shock.
“Happy birthday, Aries,” Donnie said.
“What are you doing here?” Aries sat up in bed and opened her arms to welcome the man who had once been a shy little boy sitting on a playground.
“It's our 76th anniversary, don't you remember?”
Suddenly, It all came to her. That fateful day at the playground where Donnie had given her those white flowers on her birthday … that day had been the beginning for them. That shy little boy on the playground had given her those silly white flowers on her birthday every day since they were children, and he brought them for her even as she lay on a bed in her final moments. Donnie hugged his wife, and then sat down beside her, holding one of her hands in his while the bouquet rest on her lap.
“I wouldn't miss this day for the world,” he said with a toothy grin of his own. Aries felt tears well in her grey eyes, and smiled at Donnie, thankful that she wasn't alone.
It was Aries 98th birthday, and on that day, an old woman died happy.