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The Gardenia

by Lawren Leo

A note from the author, Lawren Leo (owner of New Moon Books, Crystals & Candles)

Inspiration for my short stories always grows from a psychic kernel, a vision of some sort or an eccentric and colorful dream. Each vision always has something in common, a beginning and an end. This makes it easy for me to ‘feel’ the story and then disconnect – until now.

Recently, I took a trip home to Pennsylvania for my friend’s thirtieth birthday. He knows of my intuitive abilities and has almost become accustomed to being around me when I have a spontaneous psychic message. On the eve of his birthday, one such message occurred. This particular experience, however, was different for me. It had a beginning, but no end. Even as I write this, I am still moved from the experience. In some ways, it has changed me for the rest of my life; for the better, that is.

Here is the experience I shared with my friend. I hope it and the short story that follows will change you for the rest of your life too:

On the evening of his birthday, on an intuitive whim, I suggested we sit in front of the fireplace in his den and roast marshmallows. “I love that about you Lawren, your spontaneity!” He also loved this type of scenario: the chances were likely that I would unintentionally give a psychic message. “Did you know that my grandmother did this with her friends? She got the idea from an old Bette Davis movie, called Now Voyager. Only you Lawren, I swear!” he said in between laughs. “I bet she gives you a message for me tonight.”

It had only been several months since his grandmother died and he was having a difficult time fighting to get over the emotions. She raised him after both his parents passed in a car accident when he was only ten years old.

I watched him laughing, tousled sandy hair and wire-rimmed glasses. I was relieved to hear him happy. All my mental observations ended and his smile disappeared the moment that I caught him looking at the complex emotions on my face: direct but distant; engaged yet lacking focus. It was as if I was trying to listen in on another conversation taking place on the other side of the room. He knew that I was about to receive a message.

I felt energy spiral down through my head and into my solar plexus. A burst of wind rushed through the flue and the fire roared. Quietly, slowly, I articulated the two words held in the energy’s subtle net, “bitter earth.” Tears gilded by the reflection of the fire streamed down his face.

He stood up and rushed over to an antique desk in the corner of the room, opened a drawer, and gently took out an old shoe box. When he brought it over, he riffled through the papers and photos. Finally, he handed me an old letter. As I opened it the paper crinkled and I was filled with a sense of remorse and love-sickness. At the top of the letter were lyrics to his grandmother’s favorite song by Dinah Washington, Bitter Earth.

“She received this love letter when she was only seventeen. The postcards are from the man that had fallen in love with her. He became a photographer and traveled around the world. See this postcard from Janankpur, Nepal? He said it was his favorite because the holy lakes reminded him of her. Anyway, she married someone else as you know. It was an arranged marriage.”

He began to sob. “Lawren, was she ever happy? I was never sure. Please, tell me she died happy.”

Grief needs an outlet and I let him cry. He clenched his teeth in an effort to regain some control and finally calmed down. He had a perplexed look on his face, probably from debating whether he should have told me this next piece of information. Maybe he worried that he was betraying his grandmother.

“She would say she had only two regrets in her life – one, that she didn’t marry the man that sent her the letter; and two, that she never went to meet him at the holy lakes in Janankpur.”

“Yes, you mentioned the lakes earlier. Why did they remind him of her?”

“Well, she only told me about this before she died. When she was eighteen, she spent a year of solitude in New Hampshire and gave birth to a baby boy. Not only was he born out of wedlock, but deaf as well, and the whole town learned of this in the course of a week. Given her financial position, she was forced to give him up for adoption. I think he was the photographer’s child, but I’m not sure.”

“There was a small lake on the property that my grandmother loved. On the evening before the adoptive parents were to come she went swimming in the middle of the night. She took her baby with her. He was in her arms crying when she waded into the water so she floated on her back and put him on her belly to quiet him. They shone in the moonlight. In one of her letters to the photographer she told him about that night.  She wrote that his love had cursed her. Every time she looked at the moon she thought of him and the love they could have shared.”

“The next day the child was gone. She moved back home, and was married several months later. The incident was never spoken of again.”

I focused my attention on the shoebox once more, waiting for the right object to reveal itself. Mixed into the pile of mementos, a picture caught my eye: a river and a beautiful young woman in a gauze white dress with loose sleeves, in a position dangerously close to the edge.

“You’ve found her. That’s a picture of grandmother posing as Ophelia. She was quite eccentric.” Eyes turned up, head back, and mouth opened, she looked like a mystic at the moment of divine ecstasy. The picture was both beautiful and morbid. My friend was right. Her feelings were veiled. Was she happy? Or was she sad? And those dark eyes, so mysterious; they looked right through me.

I heard it again, Bitter Earth.

I was so moved by the events that before I left for Florida I promised myself that I would write a short story. My intention was to transform his grandmother’s regrets into something beautiful. I asked him his fondest memory of her to inspire me.

“When I was a little boy she took me to New Hampshire. I remember it like yesterday. Grandmother took me by the hand and we skipped out to that same lake. It was midnight. I remember the water being warm. Grandma had managed to bring a tumbler full of red wine and we both drank from it as if it were the Holy Grail. We took off our clothes and waded naked into the lake.”

‘Child, look up at the moon. Let’s howl at it. Come on, don’t be shy!’ We howled! We laughed! We swam! As we got out of the lake she said, ‘Now that’s what it means to be alive, boy! To hell with pain! Call out to the moon and she will answer your call. Now howl! Let me hear you howl!’

He reverently handed me the love letter and the picture of his grandmother.

Back in Florida, I placed them beside my laptop and found a beautiful version of her favorite song (a remix by Dinah Washington & Max Richter – This Bitter Earth), put it on a loop, and wrote this in her memory.

I hope you like it my friend. I hope you like it – all my friends.

Lawren Leo

This bitter earth
Well, what fruit it bears
What good is love
that no one shares
And if my life is like the dust
that hides the glow of a rose
What good am I
Heaven only knows

Lord, this bitter earth
Yes, can be so cold
Today you’re young
Too soon, you’re old

But while a voice within me cries
I’m sure someone may answer my call
And this bitter earth
may not be so bitter after all

~Dinah Washington

The Gardenia


by Lawren Leo

part one

The apparition hovered several feet above the lake accompanied by an elusive hymn. The music penetrated Anik’s deaf ears and pierced his heart. Overwhelmed with ecstasy, he dropped to his knees wrapped tight in a cocoon of silent rapture.

Gossamer sheets of purples and rose undulated in slow waves over a shimmering body of light. Seated on a lotus throne, the Goddess’s face was slightly angled to the right smiling down gently at the innocent kneeling before her. Mellifluous tones of compassion reached from her aura into one of Anik’s childhood memories, they formed a sound for him, a word.

“Mother?” he uttered. But in his mind only.

It was dawn in Janakpur, Nepal, and the sun, which looked as if it could be rising or setting, centered itself perfectly behind the apparition of White Tara.

They began speaking telepathically:

Yes, my child. Do you know how much I need you my little soldier, my dear love?

Burning tears streamed down his face. Ignored by busy parents and alienated by his handicap, all he ever wanted was to be loved, to feel needed.

Anik, I have something very important to ask of you. Today, at noon, I want you to go to the temple and visit the statue in my likeness. There, you will find a pretty American lady with long blonde hair. Hand her a gardenia. She will begin crying child, but do not become frightened. They will be tears of joy. Will you do this for me?

Yes, Mother, with all my heart.

Thank you Anik. In return, come back to this spot at sunset and I will grant you one wish.

As her presence withdrew it left a premonition in its wake. In his mind’s eye, Anik saw the lake freeze into solid ice. He could feel the molecules in the water slowing down. He saw the fish go rigid in a magical tragedy. Floating twigs suddenly became crystalline wands. Yet through the coldness, through the fear, he trusted Mother Tara and knew that this was a sacred sign, indeed, one that held freedom and beauty; one that would be revealed at sunset.

As he rose from his knees his vision evaporated. He noticed a white flower floating towards him from the lake where Mother Tara had been – a gardenia. Gently, he picked it up with both hands and inhaled deeply. There are moments of such miraculous beauty, so simple and peaceful, that they satiate the soul. This was one such moment. Now that it was gone, Anik was left in a state of inexplicable hunger. He already had a wish – if only this moment would have frozen in time, or even lingered.

Anik crossed the threshold of the temple at exactly noon with the gardenia. He walked down a colonnade which led to Mother Tara’s statue. His heart began to beat quickly. He could see the back of a woman dressed in white with long blonde hair. At that moment, Camille stood in perfect balance between Mother Tara and the little boy, about to bring her third sign.

Oh, how Anik wished he could hear what the American lady would say. But then he remembered Mother Tara’s last two words – one wish.


part two

The week before she left, she dreamed she was drowning in a lake, her pearl-encrusted wedding gown slowly pulling her down to the bottom. She woke up gasping for air. It was too late to take an Ambien, the ‘quote page’ on her iPad would have to suffice:

Sacred signs always come when your soul calls out in pain or joy.

At the bottom of the page a long rectangular ad blinked – Janakpur, Nepal, Land of the Holy Lakes. She took it as a sign.

“God, I’m so confused,” Camille said. There was no one in her office and it had become a habit to speak out loud. She sat on her heels, back resting against the wall. “I can’t call off the wedding now.” She pulled her pony tail out and blew the last drag of her cigarette out the window. She had a headache, and rightly so.

She had three stressers: the man she truly loved; a stable, yet uninspiring fiancé; and a wedding, just like three giant planets added to an already fragile galaxy. One or two were destined to collide. The quandary made its way to her stomach and she reached for the antacids. “That’s it. Life is too short. I’m booking a ticket to Janakpur!”

On the flight over she found a letter tucked into her journal. It was a sheet of white paper with an image of a gardenia embossed on the upper right hand corner.

A gardenia, my favorite flower - the second sign. There’ll be another, because everyone knows things happen in threes. The letter was from the man she loved. It read:


When we last parted you said we’d be together in another life. Please don’t assign such a fatal destiny to our hearts. We can spend our lives together now.

There is a point where the universe can deliver you from the verge of regret. I know your love for me will take you there.

All my love


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