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The vase fell, shattered. His mother’s favorite, the one that held the last rose his father had given to her before he died, a fact she repeated every time she took it out of the hutch to use.

The splinters skittered across the floor. The boy listened, but his mother, upstairs, didn’t come down. Had she heard? He swept up the shards and buried them in the outside bin. Three days until collection. When the kitchen wastebasket was full, he rushed to take it out. Anything to bury the remains even deeper in the bin.

“Have you seen my vase?” His mother had cut a rose from the garden and brought it indoors. Deep pink that paled to the edge of the petals.

He shook his head.

His mother opened and closed the hutch again, as if the vase would magically appear. “So strange. Where could it have gone?”

The boy shrugged, said nothing. The mother found a glass to fill with water for the rose.

The next day, the mother scoured the house for her vase. By the weekend, the trash was long gone. The boy should have felt relief, but the vase filled his head in the day, his dreams in the night.

Every time the image of the vase receded, the mother thought of some place she hadn’t checked and the vase haunted him again. In time, the disappearing vase became a household mystery, retold at family gatherings or shared with cashiers in gardening stores or the florist shop, embedded in legend.

One Christmas, the boy, now on the brink of manhood, bought his mother a vase, one that looked as close to the original as he could remember. His mother said ooh and aah, but it wasn’t the same and they knew it, although neither said.

His mother had a stroke when she was seventy-three and suffered impaired speech. The two words she retained were vase and rose, which she repeated often. Her doctors and caregivers were puzzled. Why were those words so clear? They tried to leverage them to help her regain her speech, but she made little progress.

Her son, now forty, shrugged, said nothing.

A few years later, she died. She left her son a letter, written with great struggle—spidery lines, tremors on the page. She told him what a good son he’d been. At the end, she wrote:

“I’m sorry. I should have told you. Our neighbor saw you put my broken vase in the bin. She didn’t know if she should tell me, but a few weeks later, she did. I didn’t say anything because I wanted you to tell me on your own. But it was too late. It was impossible for either of us to say anything. After my stroke, I knew I’d made a mistake. I tried to tell you the vase didn’t matter, it was only for the rose, but I couldn’t get through. I love you. Let everything go–the rose, the vase, me.”

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