By: Ann Christine Tabaka
Tomas looked at the well-worn prayer card with the image of Saint Theresa the Little Flower; reading the prayer on the back before putting it back into the photo sleeve in his wallet between faded pictures of his family, and an array of out-of-date plastic credit cards. He turned the wallet over in his hands several times, then placed it in his back pocket; a ritual that he did every morning. He was devoted to Saint Theresa and considered her his patron saint ever since he was a young boy growing up in war-torn Poland, all those many years ago. Many decades had passed since then, and he was now an old man living in a nursing home.
Saint Theresa was known to have suffered from depression from an early age. There were many stories and accounts that she bestowed roses on people who prayed through her. Tomas always hoped that he would someday receive one of her roses.
Tomas outlived his wife of many years and two of his three children. Every Sunday after Mass, his daughter Anna would visit with her son Danny. Tomas would light up as he regaled them with stories of his village and the old country. Then, a deep gloom would overtake him as he started to talk about the invading armies. Poland was known as Austria-Hungary at that time. They were divided, and had lost their home land to many other nations, but they did not lose their heritage or their pride. Tomas recalled the enemy raiding the villages and taking all the food, then throwing the rotten and burned potatoes they did not want into the frozen river while laughing as the starving boys dove in to retrieve whatever morsels they could find. Anna was never sure of how much of her father’s stories were accurate, and how many were made up because of his illness.
Danny never seemed to tire of his dziadek’s stories. He could sit there for hours in a dreamy trance while listening. They reminded him of all the video war games that he liked to play so much. He would picture himself in the heat of battle, even though Tomas’s stories were more about hiding and fleeing, since the village was mostly woman and children with a few men that were too old to fight back.
Anna sat back and smiled. Since her childhood, she had heard these stories hundreds of times, if not thousands. Each time the stories would change a little, embellished by her father’s failing memory. Decades of alcoholism had injured his brain cells. It seemed to run in the family. All the males drank to excess. Anna’s Babcia told her it was the Polish Curse. It didn’t help matters any that Tomas, while drunk on the job, fell off a moving freight train when he worked for the railroad, and was unconscious for hours before anyone found him.
The nurse came into the room to tell Anna and Danny it was time to leave. They had been there all afternoon and the facility preferred that their geriatric residents take a nap before dinner. Anna and Danny kissed Tomas good bye and gave him a big hug, reassuring him that they would be back again next Sunday right after Mass. Anna turned to look back as she was leaving and noticed that her father was more distracted than usual. She asked the nurse to please keep a close eye on him and to call her if anything seemed out of place.
The nurse gently helped Tomas prepare for a nap, tucking him into his bed. She told him that she would be back to wake him up to get ready for dinner in about an hour. After she left and closed the door, Tomas took his wallet out of his back pocket. He turned it over in his hands several times, and opened it up. He lovingly took the prayer card to Saint Theresa out, placed the wallet on the bedside table, and read the prayer on the back as tears filled his eyes.
When the nurse arrived an hour later to wake Tomas for dinner, she found that he had passed away. She was astounded by what she saw. There was a peaceful smile on his face, and a perfect beautiful red rose in Tomas’s hand.
Ann Christine Tabaka was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. Winner of Spillwords Press 2020 Publication of the Year (Poetic), has been internationally published, and won poetry awards from numerous publications. She is the author of 10 poetry books. She has micro-fiction in several anthologies. Christine lives in Delaware, USA. She loves gardening and cooking. Chris lives with her husband and three cats. Her most recent credits are: The Black Hair Press (Unravel Anthology, Apocalypse Anthology, Hate Anthology); Fantasia Divinity Publishing (Winds of Despair Anthology, Waters of Destruction Anthology, Earth of Oblivion Anthology); The Siren’s Call (drabbles); Potato Soup Journal: 10-word stories.