Friday’s Free-for-all is a freaky little story I wrote a few
thousand years ago. You can read along and/or listen to the narration by Robert Berliner.
Roses from Ishmael
Ishmael thought the flowers would be a nice touch. Roses were her favorite, red roses to be exact. These were slightly black around the edges and void of fragrance, but they were roses nonetheless.
“You’re not old enough to remember when roses had a smell are you?” he asked the cashier as he handed her a twenty dollar bill.
“No sir, I guess not.” She replied handing him a rumpled one along with thirteen cents in change.
“I bet you’re not even old enough to buy beer.” He said tucking the flowers under his arm. The young woman gave a weary smirk and he shoved the change into his coat pocket. “I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you’re old enough to sell it.” Ishmael yanked the eighteen pack of Bud Light from the counter and strolled to his truck.
Just outside of the city limits he reached across the seat and twisted the first cap off of a tepid bottle. The clanking of the glass was comforting and the warm beer eased the queasiness in his stomach. He downshifted and let the black Chevy pull itself along the narrow country lane as he sipped the Bud and drank in the scenery. The summer heat had taken a toll on the coastal Bermuda that waved its browned tops as he drove past. Ishmael nodded and gestured back, feeling a kinship. But relief was on the way, the weatherman said as much when he interrupted the radio host to announce tornado warnings in effect until eight o’clock this evening.
As he pulled into the drive he sucked the last bit of suds from the third bottle, took a deep breath and sighed. Her car was parked in the usual place. He felt hopeful, nervously adjusting the flowers and dusting the fallen petals to the floorboard before popping a wintergreen disc into his mouth. The mint clung to his cheek like paste as he gagged, the stench of evergreen causing him to heave with panic. A mouth full of juniper berries was an unpleasant memory to say the least. His tongue darted and swept in search of spit and after several sweeps he managed to be rid of it. When the candy landed Ishmael kicked at the dusty drive covering it and his boot in a fine white powder.
“Honey I’m home.” He called from the kitchen. “Arianna? Sweetheart? Are you still here?” he spoke gently as he made is way toward the guest bedroom.
The squishing of his boots on wet carpet went unnoticed as did her silent cries. “You’re in there aren’t you?” He asked pressing his hand to door. “Speak to me, please?” Ishmael ran his fingers across the buckled paint and continued, “Ari- I’m sorry. You have to believe I never meant to hurt you. You believe me don’t you?” the man’s statement was honest but how could she believe him? He knew how she loved her perfect house; how hard she had worked to make the quaint space a home. He knew too that it was him she loved, only him but his jealousy blinded him to the fact. “I was only trying to make a point… a stupid point I know but I never struck the match Arianna. It was an accident. Can you forgive me?”
A sharp snap came from the other side of the door and his heart dropped. He made his way back to the kitchen and tossed the roses into Tuesday’s dishwater. How many Tuesdays had passed? Her silence set a new record. She had never shunned him so long and the guilt that urged him to buy the flowers – the same remorse he felt every time he lost his temper was quickly being replaced by irritation; an all too familiar annoyance building in the pit of his stomach. It would simmer there until it bubbled over and rumbled through his empty gut lapping against raw nerves, reviving memories of every rejection and hurt feeling he had ever known.
Ishmael felt the heat rise in his face and throb in his ears as he gripped the counter to steady his frame. Trembling he strained to recall what the therapist had taught him. It was not working. The only happy thoughts he owned were of her and they had been supplanted by unbearable memoirs, images of unforgiving eyes. Her eyes once bright and smiling now flamed and pierced him with accusations. The same eyes that gave him comfort now cut him to the bone. She had a way of doing that – shaming a man without a word and shame was a thing he hated.
He had been ashamed for as long as he could remember. Even as a small boy, before he had ever heard the word or perceived its definition – he felt it. He ate shame for breakfast and bathed in it before going to bed each night. He knelt on it as he said his prayers and iced his beer in it and sometimes he hid it in a bundle of flowers. Yes shame was his unfaltering companion, the one sure thing he could count on.
Jutting his face toward the heavens he prayed and waited for an answer.
Oblivious to the first drops that landed Ishmael continued to pray. As the rain drenched his upturned face, mingling with his tears he steadied his breath and waited for an answer, an absolution that refused to come. Instead the wind swirled in the open roof above him showering his blistered face with twigs and scorched bits of fiberglass, a foul reminder of things that could not be undone.
“Am I beyond forgiveness?” He pleaded toward the thundering sky. “Will you always be angry with me?”
Ishmael tried to stoop amongst the debris, to kneel if for no other reason than sheer exhaustion but the charred drywall held his fists. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!” he croaked, his throat too dry to scream
“Damn you Arianna!” He cursed through cracked lips, unable to summon any moisture, unable to summon anything. Not so much as a heave could he muster from the memory of juniper on an elementary playground. He would now welcome the kicks of a bully in canvas sneakers, the scratching of coarse pungent needles against his face and the bitterness of their berries.
Ishmael heard the machines approaching; he could hear the men talking just prior to the wall landing. They used words like ‘total loss’, ‘unsalvageable’ and ‘condemned’. Words he had come to terms with, things no amount of roses in the world could fix.
He laid his head against the sooty timber that permanently fixed him and asked once again, “Arianna? Ari-honey are you here?” and again she refused to answer.
Written by Janna Hill
Narrated by Robert Berliner