Roses from 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.
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
“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
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
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 caused him to
heave with panic. A mouth full of juniper berries was an unpleasant memory to
say the least.
swept his mouth in search of spit. After several frantic jabs his lips gathered
to form weak whistle and he forced the disk from his mouth. The candy landed with
indifference and 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 here?” he spoke gently as he made his way toward the guest bedroom.
of his boots on wet carpet went unnoticed, much like her silent cries.
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
Ishmael’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 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.
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
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
face toward the heavens he prayed and waited for an answer.
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
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
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.
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.
Happy Valentines Day to you all and hats off to the women who
dare to write horror.