November 20th

Here’s your Message. Have a good day. No, have a great day.


A man comes out of a flower shop carrying a single red rose. He carries it in front of him, like a torch, proud to have such a magnificent thing in his possession, but also slightly self-conscious of the deep red, the fullness of the head, the stem seeming to defy gravity. A small girl holding her mother’s hand, twists around to see the rose take the corner before him, her feet stumbling backwards as her mother continues at the same pace. She wants to smell the flower, feel the rims of the petals tickle her nose, make perfume when they start to drop. A young man on a bicycle, kicking the metal pedal against the kerb, again and again, waiting for his friend to come out of the newsagents with twenty Camel cigarettes, stares at the rose, and then the man, and then thinks of his grandmother who kept a plastic red rose in a glass vase on the windowsill of her parlour. She always called it the parlour. The sofa covers were rough. They used to scratch the backs of his bare legs when he went there on Sunday afternoons. A woman coming out of the opticians catches a blur of the rose and she stops in the doorway. There’s something wrong with her glasses, she should have seen that clearly with her new varifocals, and she starts to follow the man. ‘Come back,’ she wants to shout, ‘come back and show me your rose again.’ ‘Please,’ she wants to say, but then she stops at the window of a travel agent. All the cards are blurred. She feels like crying. The man keeps walking. It seemed like the right thing to do an hour ago, but it’s only a rose. How can it help him at all?


  1. Rose was a rose was a rose. Not only a red one. She was purple and of course rose and ginger and red sprinkled. Yes, Rose would help him. Rose loved him. She was a woman who knew what she wanted, who could kill with her smile, who loved her man, of course him. The rose in his hand already invoked her scent, her laughter and her dark eyebrows. Her full name was Rosamunde. Munde like mouth in German. And Rose was on everyone’s lips. Rose was delicious. Rose loved to cook and do the dishes. He loved women who loved to do the dishes. Then she used to knit a bit and whistle a love song. He loved Rose. And he knew she loved him. He began singing an old Led Zeppelin song as he walked along.

    With a purple umbrella and a fifty cent hat,
    Livin', lovin', she's just a woman.
    Missus cool rides out in her aged Cadillac.
    Livin', lovin', she's just a woman.

    Rose didn’t have a Cadillac, but she was just a woman.

    He rang her door bell and heard her voice through the intercom.

    ‘Gary’, she said. ‘I’ve found a new love. Bugger off!’

    And Gary left the rose on the floor in front of her door, like he did the day before and before and before. And then he walked off and sang

    Nobody hears a single word you say,
    Livin', lovin', she's just a woman.
    But you keep on talkin' till your dyin' day.
    Livin', lovin', she's just a woman.

    She was just a woman who would age over decades and then die and then mould away and crumble into eternal dust. And still he would love her.

    Nothing special happened. But from that day on Rose’s front door remained unrosed forever.

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  3. An hour ago they had been rowing over the colour of a new carpet for the hallway. Sylvia wanted a rich, welcoming crimson. For Bernard, being welcomed by a red carpet didn’t work and he suggested a purple-blue colour instead. As he saw the tears swimming in her emerald eyes, and her long, black lashes flickering, he knew that he should change tactics and halt the fall of them before it was too late. It wasn’t as if it should really matter; the maisonette, two minutes walk from the railway station after an hour’s commute from the City, was something he walked into blindly, bleary-eyed. He tried to tell Sylvia that he was just irritable from eight hours of poring over a computer in a building which appeared to be made entirely of grey glass and so that was why anything remotely coloured would feel welcoming.

    During that two minute walk past the Cambridge Arms, following the pavement that dipped down alongside the duck pond, turning left into Firley Road, Bernard shook off the smell of work, and focused on Sylvia. She was more beautiful than anyone else and those eyes of hers so mesmerising, that she had talked him into buying the maisonette with her even although he knew back then that being involved wouldn’t be a great career move.

    Of course, Sylvia knew Bernard had a colourful past but she really thought that she had changed him. And now she was pregnant and he was buying her a rose. As a gigolo, he was used to writing corny love notes but this time he struggled:

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    Your eyes are like jewels,
    Our baby’s will be too.

    He threw the rose in the bin and the little girl coming the other way grabbed it.

  4. They were friends for a long time, then enemies for even longer. Separated by a wall, a fence, they pretended to ignore each other’s existence. It required elaborate effort, sometimes, to avoid catching each other’s eyes as they passed with bags of shopping on the path. After a while the feud itself was the point, kept up for so long that it became an unbreakable habit.

    The other neighbours – those they knew, left over like them from the old days – treated them like squabbling children. With amusement, at first, then exasperation, and finally with resignation.

    But now, when it is too late, Maureen feels something which must be regret. She has cherished for years the hope of surviving her adversary, but this morning she feels the pain of going to her own grave without reconciliation. Although there is no one to see it, there is something she needs to do.

    Struggling down the path, she walks out of her own front gate and turns in at next door’s. She hasn’t been up this path for twenty years. Silly, really. Ridiculous. She pushes the side gate open and lets herself through into the back.

    Elspeth’s garden, once tamed and beautiful, is awash with roses. Through the years of neglect the bushes have grown so far beyond the bounds of what was intended that their original shape can no longer be discerned. Braving the thorns, Maureen gathers armfuls of roses, red and pink and creamy white. She makes several trips to and fro, piling up the flowers on Elspeth’s front doorstep. She doesn’t stop until she has plucked everything she can reach. Then she stands for a moment, looking at the blowsy heap of blooms and buds and fallen petals. Not so much a bouquet as a litter, she thinks with satisfaction.

  5. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet."

    When Romeo tried to find out, she followed up with: “Wherefore art thou?”
    The swain grumbled as he dusted himself off.
    “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Juliet yelled.
    “In the bloody rosebush.”
    “The ladder fell down.” And off he went to capitulate. “I’m a swain, see. Got work to do.”

    What’s in a name, Bill pondered. Swain. Swan. Swoon. Who?

    “Who is Sylvia, what is she?”
    No swanning me, Sylvia thought. Here he goes getting me into trouble now. That’s what you get when you stop a girl living in the woods. She can’t see the trees for the roses. No one can spell that name, anyway. Slyvia. Salvia.

    It’s no fun getting called Saliva at school. Spit and dribble. Yuk. And then when you get older and apply for management jobs, they send you letters inviting you to an interview, expenses paid, but it’s addressed to Silvio. Who? Yeah, so I wear tights and keep my hair long. They saw through it. “Sorry, we were expecting a man?” But they let me keep the change for the trip home. Home? Ah, back to the woods where the trees are covered with climbing roses. Substitute whatever you like for “rose”, as long as it’s fragrant. What’s in a name? Try clothes.

    Clothes make the man. What about women? Turn on the pc. Clothes make the person; any avatar on Second Life can tell you that. Have another go, Bill. They’re working on making the roses smell. Scratch ‘n’ sniff. Don’t need names. Just fly. Do. Be. Do-bee-do, as a mate of mine once said. Watch out for the sting, though, and the thorns that can scratch when you fall back into reality.

  6. He tripped and dropped his torch; it died as it hit the ground and he swore as he heard the glass shatter.
    ‘Wait up’ he yelled to the others, but they didn’t hear him.
    ‘Wait for me’ he shouted again. But there was still no reply.
    They’d left him behind.

    He looked around, trying to force his eyes to see through the night, trying to get his bearings. The mist filtered the moonlight, blurring what he could see.
    He remembered that the moon had cast shadows in front of him when they were walking, so if he kept it ahead of him, he should get back ok. He began to follow the moon through the woods.

    When he looked up next it had gone. He turned around and looked again. The moon was now behind him. I must be tired, he told himself, retracing his steps. The cold was creeping through the layers of fleece he wore, even his thick boots were letting the frost seep into his toes. He jumped up and down, watching his breath mix with the icy mist, then slapped his face to make sure he was awake and set off again.

    He felt like he was walking in circles, but the moon shone straight ahead. He followed it faithfully, until he happened to look down for a second, and lost it again. He looked over his shoulder to find it sneaking up on him. He turned to face it, but blinked and it slipped away again. He was getting dizzy and the night was confusing him.

    Maybe he should just sit and wait till morning. He sank down at the base of the tree and tried to keep looking at the moon. But his eyes slowly closed and the mist and cold swallowed him whole.

  7. My origins, on close observation, are decent enough. I’m not your ‘middle of the range’ small garden type, in some two up two down surburban household with a cat sniffing my petals and leaving behind a scented trace of its own.

    I originate from a nursery, started up in 1879 in Yorkshire, now in Hitchins, renown for its excellence. Our beauty is universally acclaimed and a few close relatives have travelled widely as a result, going to remote corners like Alaska, on special occasions.

    When I was growing up I envied my distant cousins in Spain, Greece, Italy and France and would often send them messages of well wishes through my friends Orchid and Rosales. Too busy to message, they’d send word back through a mutual friend, Rosa, of how much entertainment they often did in the Spring and Summer months in garden and/or beach parties, barbecues, birthdays, weddings, Coming of Age ceremonies and several others too numerous to mention here.

    My geography is somewhat limited to our European counterparts. On occasions, I get messages from distant relatives in the States, especially, on Remembrance Sunday and Thanksgiving. To some degree we’ve lost touch, as the distance has deterred few from staying over.

    Now that I’ve been plucked from obscurity, I will live my life out in comfort as that first moment my owner had set eyes on me, I was struck smitten. My blushing petals blushed a deeper red as he held me in his hands and swept me out of the boutique, touching the core of my sepal. In his hands I’m Aphrodite to my Adonis and I quake with desire to be by his side until I wilt. My stem senses his touch with such longing, I yearn to be kissed and loved eternally, ‘Fait accompli’ my love.


  8. Three streets away is a man I once saw
    at a lecture about Gogol.
    We never spoke. Not that time, nor since.
    We certainly won’t speak now. I can’t really see him
    although I know, beyond certainty, he is there.

    My grandmother used to tell me about my great-uncle, George.
    He was tall like a Cossack. Bushy black eyebrows. Hands
    with tops like animate muscles
    living lives of their own without any impulse from him.
    Turn them over, though, and his palms were
    soft, kind, warm, helpful. Just as I would grow to be.
    I see him inside you, she would say. I wonder
    what he looks like deep in there, I would ask.

    I had never seen her before. But as she sat there
    in her room, overlooking the sea, ageless hands across
    her eyes, head tilted like the Madonna,
    it seemed I had seen her every day since I was four.
    She knew me then as she knows me now
    as she knows all my “dear ones” who have “passed,”
    who surround her and whisper messages to me
    of good fortune, dreams fulfilled, eternal blessings.
    Through her they send their love, these spirits I never knew,
    never heard of but now desperately need.

    A man drums a beat, in the rain, on steel drums.
    New music is born of his measured strikes,
    the rain’s random drops.
    In the suitcase by his feet lies nothing but a rose,
    an invitation, perhaps, to stop and listen. To help.
    The rhythm makes me light, though my feet feel heavy.
    Suddenly in my pockets
    a seashore of coins appears.
    Feverishly, I empty them, desperate to move my feet.
    A mountain of money buries the rose now lost
    inside the case. The man stops playing. A crowd appears.
    Finally, my feet can dance.

  9. We sat on opposite sides of the chapel, each trying to claim superiority over the other. The nearest and dearest always sit in the front pews. My divorced mother, my husband and I sat on one side, her and her family on the other.

    I was angry, nervous and upset. My father had died and I had no say in his funeral arrangements. She had organised everything, and at these times of heightened emotions it's always the silly little things that take on ridiculously mammoth proportions. Like the 'clothes' he was buried in. My father was a suit-and-tie man; smart even when casual. She had put him in a pale blue nylon robe with a bow tied round his neck. It was laughable. He would have hated it.

    He loved classical music, not the heavy stuff, but Grieg, Mendelssohn, and Rachmaninov - the type of melodious music you can hum to all day. She chose something light. Fine. She decided on Tchaikovsky's 'Sugar Plum Fairy'. Well, I ask you! Who in their right mind would have that at a man's funeral? I hoped he had managed to take his sense of humour with him.

    Afterwards we went to look at the flowers. I can't remember hers. I know it was small and round. I don't have a problem with that. Mine was the largest floral tribute. There was no ulterior motive in this. I like flowers; so did my father. I was a trained florist so I could put my heart and soul into my tribute.

    Whether or not this is done by all undertakers, I don't know, but my father's undertaker, presuming that the large tribute had been from her, bent down and pulled out a rose and gave it to her - as a memento. It was the last straw.

  10. Those steeped in economics sometimes call it trickle down, and sociologists may find a reference to the ripple effect. I have another name, for what is it really if not a waterfall?
    The man with the rose, such a simple event and yet so crucial as it sends the woman with the glasses at the Travel Agent's window? She cries - so sad that moment, but the tears are not for the failing eyesight, or for the wasted day. No - they are for the rose that never was, but the young bright man inside the glass sees only the tears, and believes he understands the journey not taken. But does he head home that night? No, instead he drives through rain and dark in order to surprise his love; but never quite arrives.

    Wait! Do not fear!

    It is not he that dies. His chosen one will see his face again. He waits, safe but frustrated in that queue, as red tail lights mark out the path to someone else’s end. He never sees the car, bent and destroyed; an image of the body trapped within, the bright lights finally extinguished. The end was mercifully swift but still it leads to pain.

    Death hurts not the dying, but in the living does his cut run oh so deep.

    The call is made from shining tarmac back to base, and then appear reluctant visitors at the house. The Englishman within his castle swings the doorway open and then stops? This is not the person he expected! He listens open-mouthed, and as the gentle words are spoken, the one red rose drops forgotten from his hand as if a single drop of blood were shed.

    It is true that some cascades are beautiful to behold; but sometimes people drown in waterfalls.

    Jon Ayre

  11. There’s a rose in the vase on the windowsill. It survives well without water by the simple fact that it never felt the sun upon its leaves. Its stem is made of barbed wire -- barbed silver wire to be precise – and hold leaves and flower of black leather. She touches it often as she passes; the fluted red vase, filled with sand instead of water, holding the leather petals to the artificial sunlight of a naked bulb. The scent of leather faded long ago but she discovered the trick of adding a drop or two of scented oil into the crushed vulva of petals and now it smells of sandalwood, patchouli, musk.

    Visitors stare at the unreality of the flower spike, unable to resist stretching out a hand to touch the sharpened thorns and a dribble of blood catches the light as it clings to the bright silver. The guest will laugh at his own stupidity and commend his host on the skilful modelling of the artist. She’ll shake her head and tell him it was a gift.

    When he leaves she’ll open the wooden doors that hide a niche in the wall. A bronze statue of Kali hides there, forever dancing on the body of her husband Shiva. She accepts the blood as her due, an unwilling sacrifice from the foolish dedicated to a protective mother goddess.

    Alone again, she leaves the doors open and lights sticks of incense on either side of the rose, a slip of paper no bigger than a postage stamp speared onto Kali’s upward sword; the hopes of a penitent offered to the whim of a goddess. After a day the paper is burned and the wooden doors closed. The shelf is cleared but for the rose, resplendent in silver and black leather.

  12. More than a surprise. A shock. The red poppy in Joe's lapel!. It is the rose that repulses me. It`s thin, awkward stem armed with thorns, struggling to support an unnaturally large head, that withers and stays. I see the head dropping, or being knocked off by the swing of a coat`s hem, the head rolls, slicing itself open during its treacherous decent, still clinging to the stem. I had taken Kim to the park, she was about three years old. We spent the morning there, kicking around a small ball that had stars on it. She became bored and wanted to explore. I began to pack up the white sheet we had been sitting on. I suppose roses do look delicious. She must have knelt down and curled her tiny hands around the stem, like she did with the dandelions poking out of the grass.

    It was then that I heard the screams. She is on her knees hammering the grass with her hands, driving the thorns in deeper and deeper, her face stone, mashed up with tears beneath her blonde curly mop. I pick her up and fold her into me, easing the thorns one by one from her palms. She is trembling. We both are. I try to control my voice. "It`s okay, it`s okay now, all better, all better now, mummy`s got you, mummy`s got you." And her sobbing dissolves against my chest. Thirty years. Thirty years burning inside me without sound. And now my fast hatred of Kim, of not knowing who I'm looking at, turns to love. I think she might remember my kindness, somewhere in the restful place of her childhood.

    I`d have liked Joe to write a poem about the taste of home made sponge. Better not make a joke of it.

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  14. He loosens the grip on the stem of the rose and uncurls his fingers to examine the palm of his hand. There is blood in the crevices making the lines on his hand stand out. He stands there mesmerised. Sometimes his mother pierced her fingers making dresses for brides and she would be terrified of getting blood on the delicate white fabric . Perhaps he’d give the rose a slow death like children do. He can hear those childish voices “he loves me, he loves me not “, echoing across the playground. He’d never be the man dreams are made of, he’d been fooling himself all morning. He’d have to let her go and begin to clear up the mess. If only children could be divided as painlessly as furniture and CD’s. The woman stops a couple of steps behind the man. She knows that he’s about to destroy that beautiful red rose and she simply can’t bear it. If he touches the petals she knows that she won’t be able to stop herself. She’ll tear it out of his hands and run off with it. Such a gorgeous vibrant colour. She simply must have it. It will be too late soon. Mum always dressed her plainly and left to her own devices after her her death she found herself in shops not knowing what to buy. Today she felt like crying, it had been like it all day. Having varifocals was certainly not something to celebrate. This morning she woken up with the single thought, Larkin was right, all I have to look forward to now is a life with no teeth, no hair, no me anymore. The man turned and noticing the look on the woman’s face allowed the words, “Fancy a coffee?” to spill from his mouth.

  15. Climbing Rose attacks a glacier, crampons akimbo, stabbing with her ice pick, relishing the challenge. Damask Rose lays the table for a genteel supper, placing the cutlery carefully, just so. Wild Rose wails and shrieks, dancing naked on a hillside in the midnight rain. Old Rose rocks, gently, in the rocking chair on her porch, puffing on her pipe and watching the sweet-smelling smoke mingle with the twilight. China Rose seems delicate and brittle, but is stronger, older, and more durable than she looks. Tea Rose doesn't like coffee, can always eat cake, and thinks the afternoon is the very nicest time of day. English Rose is her best friend; they also enjoy fish and chips, theme parks and driving a little too fast. Rambling Rose spends her holidays in national parks, happy as a singing blackbird with a map round her neck, mud on her boots, and the thought of a pint of real ale at the next pub sitting comfortably in the back of her mind. Alba Rose is pale, ethereal, fragile-looking, and makes other women want to spit. Floribunda Rose wishes to goodness that her parents had had better taste in names; she would rather have been called Jane, or Susan, or even Ethel. Moss Rose sits on an old stone wall, sweat blooming from pores beneath arms and breasts, her knickers damp. Musk Rose is partly to blame and, knowing it, swaggers. Rugosa Rose shimmies her big old hips and slaps that good-for-nothing Musk Rose upside the head. Miniature Rose is so cute that she pulls at your heart; even her thorns are adorable. Groundcover Rose spends her entire year looking forward to Wimbledon and hoping for downpours. Hardy Rose faints at the smell of blood. Portland Rose asks if she may please have the bill.

  16. February

    Saturday morning. 9 am. Frost. Dan is 11 years old. He is carrying roses: Kenyan roses he’d stolen from the white plastic bucket outside the petrol station. He presses his nose into the tight buds but there is no sweet scent. There is no scent at all. His heart is thumping. He’s never done anything like this before. Still there is a first time for everything.
    He avoids the closest cemetery, two streets away, and walks five miles to the next. He doesn’t want his friends to see him. He hopes that selling roses will make him enough to pay for piano lessons. His mum had said, ‘go ask your father.’ But he knew what that meant. His dad hadn’t worked since Connor’s accident. He’d heard his mother shouting, ‘e was mine too, but you don’t see me in the pub.’
    He remembers the first time he saw his father drunk; the first time his mother walked out slamming the door; the first time Miss Summers, the new music teacher, had smiled at him and asked if he was ok.
    By three o’clock he has sold four bunches. He has six pounds.
    Piano lessons cost sixty pounds a term. He thinks he will do better tomorrow.

    Instead of avoiding the first cemetery again he leaves the remaining bunches outside its gates, and runs faster than he’s ever run before, the wind stinging his eyes.
    When he arrives home he finds his dad in the garden picking snowdrops. ‘Alright, lad,’ he says, ‘these are for your brother’. His mother calls from the kitchen door. ‘Dan, Dan.’ Turning, he sees a man, the cashier from the petrol station, standing beside her, shaking his head. He knows now that piano lessons will be out this term. Still, there is always the next.

  17. At this time of year, at this time of the afternoon, the light through the rose window in the south transept is mesmerising. Angels and martyrs writhe in fronds and flowers, animated by the ascendant sun – an alchemy of matter and spirit, almost pagan in its sensuality. Bright beams catch dust with colour, three dimensional and more than alive, carrying their illumination to the dark stones below.

    He rose early this morning, but already the sun had risen, casting sharp lines through the cheap blinds. Even fresh coffee had smelt sour. Outside the air was, if anything, more stale. Still, he was feeling restless, so walking the familiar streets provided a partial relief of sorts. Regrets are at their worst when they are clothed in uncertainty, where I wish has no clear subject and gnaws at your insides like sickness. He ran the events over and over, wondering what he could have done. Nothing. No, there was nothing he could have done, but still he couldn’t forgive himself, and still he thought, I wish. Before he was really conscious of it, he found himself in the cool silence of the cathedral.

    Rows of dark benches, ripe with polish and age, crouch empty, far below the ribs and fronds of the ancient vault. There is something here even more solid and immovable than the stones from which it is built. He sits and, at first, lowers his eyes to the worn paving, but something makes him look up. And in that one slight movement, his eyes swim into the light of centuries, jewelled and clear – the purifying light that lifts him up, far beyond his petty self.

    He knows what he will do. He will walk to the florist at the canal side, and he will buy one perfect, red rose.

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  19. John allows himself to be ushered in, as he does every week. He doesn’t dislike his grandmother - she is kind to him - but there is little for him to do at her house. As usual, he and his mother sit on the sofa, while Grandmother pours tea, offers shortbread, and chatters about that morning’s sermon. His mother, he notices, never notices the horse hairs sticking out of the cushions on the sofa. Her long skirt protects her legs, whereas his short trousers do not. He doesn’t mind. Grandmother hands him an extra biscuit. She is a kind woman.

    As usual, his gaze drifts to the large clock in the corner of the room. He knows that if he watches it very carefully he can see the big hand move. Well, not the hand moving, exactly, but the space between it and the next minute-marker grow smaller. He watches, and listens.


    Eventually, his interest tires of the clock, and turns to the armchair by the fireplace. Grandfather never joins them for tea, and he never takes part in the conversation. He just sits. From time to time he moves his head, as though he has become more interested in that part of the middle distance, than the one he was previously watching.

    John remembers, when he was a very young boy, his grandfather used to tousle his hair, and smile at him; but that hasn’t happened for a long time.

    Grandfather’s gaze now settles on a plastic red rose that Grandmother keeps in a glass jar on the windowsill. It gives him something to look at, she says, something to do.

    But John, who does not yet know the horrors of old age, can’t see how it can help him at all.


  20. One moment you feel OK, the next moment you don’t. I’ve been having panic attacks you say. Just saying panic attacks helps a bit. Other people get those too and they’re not bad people, not people who’ve completely messed their own lives up. To eat anything you have to coax yourself, try a bit of this. You’re drinking too much coffee. No alcohol, that’s probably a good thing. And you should stop watching Deal or No Deal. It starts off so hopefully, with all the reds intact, but half an hour later it’s all gone wrong, it’s awful. Noel Edmonds urges the tearful woman to accept the banker’s offer. You cry when the contestant loses, you cry when they win thousands of pounds. You’re a bit near the edge, emotionally. You read a story about a woman whose new varifocals don’t work properly. It’s unbearable. You choose a dress for the Christmas party and take it to the fitting room. Shocked by your own reflection, you hurry away.

    An old man is sitting in the waiting room. He must be at least 90, with rheumy eyes and jittery legs. You both wait ages, then Doctor Crowe calls him in first. The waiting room’s practically empty now. Feeling truly terrible, you move to another chair. Doctor Crowe is very kind, you remember. Maybe you should tell her, not just about your eye problems, but then what could she. You’ve waited an hour now. You start worrying, what if she goes for her lunch break and you have to see a different doctor.

    The same man repasses, but at first you don’t recognise him. He’s smiling, with colour in his cheeks, and walking jauntily. He looks forty years younger. If she can do that, you think, anything’s possible. She calls your name.

  21. The day he leaves is all glass and doors. She’s locked in the bathroom, curled up foetal-like in her white silk nightdress, covering the cold tiles like a fallen cloud. He’s slumped against the other side of door. They often end up like this, too stubborn to give in, too tired to carry on. Next to him lies a broken vase. Shards of glass jut from the carpet like sharp tears. Amongst them, a dozen red roses lie scattered about like drowned bodies awaiting rescue. The day before they had stood to attention, proud and fearless, twelve soldiers ready to sacrifice themselves in the name of desire.

    When he wakes he heads for the bedroom. Wardrobe doors slam. Her sobs seep under the door like smoke and fill the room. He opens a window to help him breath. She enters the hallway just as he’s closing the front door behind him. She watches his descent through the wavy door panes, his figure distorted but familiar staggering down the path. She enjoys seeing the world through wavy glass. It reminds her of the crazy mirrors at the funfair. Each mirror revealing an alternative reality.

    She’s witnessed this scene before, knows what comes next. She opens the door, opens her mouth to say the next line, but her voice remains trapped somewhere deep inside. He senses her behind him and turns around. She waits for him to see her, for his face to shatter like a mirror into a hundred lines. But this time the mirror stays intact, reflecting back her own emptiness. A few moments later the car is revving and his face becomes a dark smudge behind the windscreen. He pulls away. Is soon out of sight. And she is left staring, staring at something that is no longer there.

    Sarah C

  22. She has never been given red roses.

    She longs for a dozen roses, but failing that a single long stemmed rose would suffice. She admires them in flower shops and is often tempted to buy one from a roadside vendor. But red roses should be a gift with a deeper meaning.

    A rose would be a tangible sign that she was loved.

    She had always imagined carrying blood red roses at her wedding, her bridesmaids following behind dressed in crimson…velvet for a winter wedding or silk in the summer. Afterwards she would not throw her bouquet in the traditional manner, but would have it preserved and hung on her wall in a frame, the red petals fading.

    She has suffered so many disappointments in her life.

    She had met men of course, had lovers. She has the pictures to prove it. But they were never romantic, they were not the sort of men to treat her, court her, or even think about giving her red roses. She had once hoped he might be different, the one who finally lasted. She gave up her dreams of roses and romance, settled instead for the next best thing, realising that she wasn’t getting any younger.

    She remembers the blood.

    Crimson like a rose, it carried away the one tiny thing they had both longed for. She was bereft but he couldn’t comfort her. He didn’t even say he loved her or buy her flowers. Not long afterwards, unable to cope with the pain, he left for ever. She swore to herself that she would never become so vulnerable again and withdrew from the world of men.

    Now there is no more blood.

    Her last chance has finally gone. She feels empty, purposeless. She knows now that she will never be given red roses.

  23. It was the same structure but it had been vandalised by PVC, the beautiful leaded deco windows destroyed. The old garage had gone as well as the narrow path that separated it from the house. There was a box of bricks stuck onto the house like a Lego afterthought. She would not be able to sneak quickly to the back garden as she had as a child, sometimes preferring to be there, returning to the patch of ground as if this was home; the lupins with their silky refusal to flower and the old horse chestnut tree lifting the shed with its roots. At the bottom of the garden was a crazy paving area with two ovals of soil. Here were the old roses that she loved. In the first oval was a blousy old girl all pinky peach and smelling like a pear drop. In the second oval a deep red, almost purple, dried blood rose with a much lighter taste to it. She liked to feel the petals between her thumb and forefinger, especially in the rain. Touching it slowly, circling and calming, trying to imprint its colour onto her skin. She learned to kiss like this, through touching a rose, and eating its thorns. She never met anyone else who snapped thorns from rose stems and bit the juice from them; lemon, with a threat of salt. She wanted to run to the garden but knew that her roses would be gone, and if they remained in some incarnation, there might be a spell in their scent to take her back 30 years. If she found a thorn to bite into, there could be a shift in time. A sharp oyster sweetness on her moving tongue, as she caught the sound of angry voices from the house.

  24. His nana used to say 'Real men don't buy flowers. Real men do PROPER jobs.' Like working down the pit, just like his grand-pop used to do for nigh on 20 years till he was 'taken' by THE ACCIDENT. Along with grumpy Gareth and big Al. Their absence is still felt in the village today - after all these years. With his grand-pop it wasn't so much felt at no 37. There, it was a never ending cycle of bed/pit/pub/bed. Nana used to call him the big black ghost. Now you see him, now you don't When I used to visit them on a Sunday as a kid, I'd be sitting in the back room, good as gold, then he'd suddenly appear. You'd hear his almightly roar first 'Is there hot water Glad?' and virtually shake the house. The house was tiny. The walls were paper thin. I'd often hear raised voices from no 41next door. There wasn't a 39, according to nana, the council couldn't add up properly. Grand-pop's eyes would be red-rimmed from all that coal dust, the whites of his eyes would stare out, as if HE'D seen a ghost. 'The Black and White Minstrels have nothing on you Dai' nana would wheeze. She wheezed a lot and she'd never even been near a pit. Just thinking about it now is nearly bringing on an asthma attack. This red rose is starting to get on my nerves. It seemed the right thing to do an hour ago, but I'm not sure nana would want a fancy flower, even though it's an important birthday and she's had a telegram from the Queen and everything. I know what she'll say 'What good's a flower to me when your grand-pop's six feet under pushing up the daisies?'

    Louise Laurie

  25. I shall never forget the first day I met her. As I shook her hand it seemed as though her fingers were elongated icicles clutching at mine. Her half smile was equally chilly.

    ‘I’m just finishing off the flowers, Madam,’ she said. ‘Your husband has advised me that your particular favourites are deep red roses.’
    ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘That’s right. Ones with elongated stems that stand proud.’

    ‘I know your husband’s taste,’ she said. ‘He prefers tightly packed rosebuds; those are the ones I have chosen.’

    I felt her small black eyes piercing right into me and took a step back. That was my first mistake. She knew immediately that she had power over me; that she would be victorious.

    And he would never have a word said against her, not even in my defence. When I complained that I should like to plan a meal, maybe rearrange a room or pick flowers from the garden, he always suggested I leave it to her.

    She was so competent that I knew I could never reach her high standards, so eventually I gave up any attempt to voice an opinion. I left everything to her and he seemed satisfied with the arrangement. I had little to do but go for long walks in the woods surrounding the house, play a little Patience, immerse myself in a book from the extensive library.

    So I devised a plan. I would find a room at the top of the house, one that reminded me of my grandmother. A shabby chair, a warm rug underfoot and a plastic red rose in a glass vase. There would be no Mrs Danvers watching my every move, no mention of Rebecca and no husband to obey. I would be my own person.

    And that is what I did.

  26. We were given a ‘Ruby Wedding’ rose bush on our fortieth Anniversary. I think of the single rose you bought me to wear in my hair when we went to dances; remember its velvety petals, its perfume. Why this rose worship? Why this disparagement of dandelions? They might well have inspired Wordsworth, their gold is far richer than the pallid shade of daffodils. Is it the smell we don’t like; are we all programmed to think one smell good, another bad; one creating a perfume, the other a stink? But look at this perfect drop of blood poised on my fingertip, pierced by the cruel thorn on the stem of a rose. Here is beauty and cruelty stemming from the same heart.

    I have two beautiful watercolours, one of a single rose, one of dandelions. They hang in separate rooms; this is not a form of apartheid, I treasure them equally.

    I used to keep the single red plastic rose given away free with each packet of Daz for my Company’s prop department until we had quite a collection; they were stored in a big wicker crate and used for dressing the stage. Then the detergent maker changed to daffodils, and we saved them too, useful for Spring settings. But our new Stage Director banished them, saying they look tawdry and unreal so in future we had to pay for artificial flowers from a Theatrical Property Department in London.

    Silk roses are deemed acceptable; in the stately home, on the dining table. Plastic roses are strictly taboo.

    Romance is no longer in fashion, as moonlight and roses fade fast into a bygone age. Far more acceptable today are Dorothy Parker’s lines in “One Perfect Rose”.

    ‘Why is it no one ever sent me yet
    One perfect limousine, do you suppose?...’

  27. Edge of Town

    You scratched the back of my legs with a stick once. Do you remember? We were walking down to the river, to the last rows of houses down by the mill. I was delivering newspapers and you followed me, keeping your distance at first. I heard you, clattering a stick along the metal fence, as if to say notice me, notice me. I knew who you were, living at that house on the last row of terraces, right at the edge of town, where the road becomes dirt track and grass verges become fields. It was a house with dirty windows so dark I wanted to peer through the glass. Crowds of spider plants sprouted baby spider plants, green bottles lined up along the sill. People said you were the child of a woman and a cat. But I knew you were an only child, a lost child, a wilder child than me. You walked fast until you were close behind me, tailing me, stepping in the footprints I had just made. One step, two step, STOP. I turned on my heel as quickly as I could, and stared into your glass green eyes. I wanted to shout: What is it? Why are you following me? Why me? Only the wind stopped me. It blew in two directions at once, and the weeds parted, as if nettles and thistles had turned and bowed away from you. Leaves rustled. The shift bell rang in the mill and you opened your mouth to speak, only no sound came out. It was the day when you scratched my legs with a stick as you ran past. When my feet caught on the kerb of the path and I fell. When in a moment we knew ourselves better. Do you remember?

    Annie Clarkson

  28. This was the first time she had tried Internet Dating. “Meet you at six. I’ll carry a red rose,” he wrote in his e-mail. She just had time to nip into the opticians to collect her new glasses first.
    The optician told her she had “horrid eyes.” Shirley had been hurt. Fred told her she had lovely eyes, the colour of cornflowers. Shirley had been worried about that at the time, she’d never seen a cornflower and wasn’t corn yellow? Her eyes were the true, clear blue of a summer sky, that’s what twelve year-old Ruby had written in her Mother’s Day card. But now Fred had died and Ruby had liked the summer sky so much she had emigrated with her family to Australia.
    “Your eyes are the shape of rugby balls,” the optician told her. “They should be like footballs, perfectly round.” She had said this in the tone of utmost condescension, as if she, Shirley, had failed a basic test of humanity.
    The glasses were ugly; square and heavy, but the optician had advised her that the shape would give some angularity to what she called the “somewhat featureless” roundness of her small face. The shop was closing and Shirley was persuaded to drop her old glasses in the ‘Glasses for Africa’ box and leave promptly. As she walked out of the door she saw a man in a suit carefully carrying a blurry red object in front of him. Was it a rose? The way he held it, so preciously, suggested that it was. She stepped towards him but the ground rose up before her. ‘Come back’ she wanted to call, but she could not see where he had gone to. She turned instead to the window of the travel agent, searching for her own reflection.


  29. Sophie remembered the first time she had seen the carving. It had been at her Grandmothers. She remembered that it had been raining that day and she could hear it outside, thrumming on the rooftop.

    Grandmother had brought her a cup of milky tea and some Quality Street chocolates. She loved them; they made her feel posh, each candy individually wrapped in a bright, colourful wrapper. She let each chocolate melt in her mouth.

    She had sat down next to her, her old bones moving slowly. She had a heavy wooden box in her hands. “What’s that?” Sophie had asked.

    “This,” her Grandmother rubbed the top of the box lovingly. “This is very special.” She pressed something on the side and the top of the box and Sophie heard a click, a whir, and watched the box open.

    There was a musty smell that was quickly followed by a lavender smell. Grandmother rustled around and Sophie heard the crinkle of tissue paper. Then her Grandmother withdrew her hands and Sophie stared at what she held.

    “This has been in our family for generations.” Grandmother said. “We are the Guardians of the Rose.” She leaned closer, her voice urgent. “This is very important Sophie. You must listen. We must guard the Rose against all those that would wish to destroy it. Do you understand?”

    Sophie nodded. “Who would wish to destroy it?”

    Grandmother shook her head, sighed. “Many people, many not human. When I am dead and gone, the Rose will be yours. Never let anyone know you have it; to do so would mean your death.” She put the Rose away and clutched at Sophie’s hands. “We must do all we can to keep it safe.”

    Now, days after Grandmother’s funeral, Sophie looked at the wooden box on her lap.

    Jamieson Wolf

  30. Estella Rivera
    aka Tilly Rivers
    Botanist, Mother
    1930 - 2007

    He checked the headstone. It was accurate. She never liked frivolity. His mother changed her name because she said, as a scientist she needed to be less sentimental. He recalled when he wept because the bloom had literally fallen off the rose she was studying. She took off her gardening gloves.

    "Arn, are you crying? Is my grown son, crying? Over something as ephemeral as a Rose Gigantea? Why? Flowers die. They're merely ornamentation for one's life. The bloom falling off symbolizes the end a phase. In this case, the reproductive powers of the plant. Just like your father's departure meant the end of anymore siblings for you."

    She never called him Arnold because his father had named him that, it was always Arn. Father's death was a betrayal and then an enthronement of the better aspects of his life, which were two - he read classics, put down the toilet seat.

    She never wanted to be who she was so she didn't want her son to be who he was either. He tried to answer but she kept speaking over him every time he tried.

    He looked at the blood red rose in his hand, de-thorned of its power. It all started when she landed headfirst by accident, into the hole she dug for her hybrid tea rose. He found her there, like an ostrich.


    "Get me out of here. Do you think I like being buried head first?"

    Upright again, she never quite regained her old behavior. She forgot the beginning of his name, then he had no name at all. She forgot him, but still smiled when he brought her roses. He placed the rose down, dry-eyed.

    "Like dad and the rose--that's why I cried. Good-bye, Mother."

  31. The Name Of The Rose

    Ruby Red touches up her make-up. Cherry Lady puts on a new pair of shoes. Together they go off for their evening out in a Red Corvette. The sky is Pacific Blue and the ladies have their minds on Passion. Last time they went out, Ruby behaved like a bit of a Prima Donna. Cherry has a Flashback as they venture out into the cold night. The car feels like an Iceberg as the Blizzard blows around them. They both have visions of becoming an Ice Queen.
    As they enter the club, they are hit by Energy! And the promise of Heaven! ,And a Temptation to Hocus Pocus! They are surrounded by colour: Glitter, Orange Flash and Kingfisher!
    It’s hot and crowded in there. A real Full House. They make a rush for the bar, managing to jostle into Pole Position in time for Happy Hour. As they’re so hot, they decide to give Cherry Brandy a miss, and go for Lemonade and Cool Water instead.
    Excitement grows. It’s like being at a Grand Prix; walking down Broadway; winter in Moscow and a weekend in Amsterdam. Cherry’s excitement knows no bounds as she is approached by a man with the air of Adventure about him. What a Splendid Surprise! What a Sweet Unique feeling!
    He looks a bit like Mr Universe and apparently he drives a Cadillac. He treats her with nothing but Respect, so eventually she lets him Kiss her. He’s her Valentino, her Macho man! Could he be her Valentine? Will he take her to a whole new Royal Class?
    Cherry feels Surprise at his Aroma. She hardly has time to catch her breath as he whirls her away with a cry of Abrakadabra, and takes her for a Swing in the Moonlight!

  32. It had been a long day; children-filled and noisy. There was nothing new about this and, as usual, Jenny was past wilting and the boys nearly in bed when John arrived home from work, late again. However, unlike usual, half-hidden behind his back was a bouquet of yellow roses, bursting with scent and sunshine.

    "For you, my darling," he said, wrapping his arms round her like a warm velvety petal. She reached up for a kiss but he was pulled away by their children clamouring for a bedtime story.

    In the kitchen, Jenny slit open the roses' plastic wrapper and stroked the half-closed baby skin petals across her cheek. They felt as soft as John's lips on her neck; those kisses that made her melt with sunshine. She was glad he'd chosen yellow, not the clichéd red. She wondered what had prompted his choice though. They were like the ones she'd chosen for her bridal bouquet, but she wouldn't have thought he'd remember that. Jenny frowned.

    Nipping the bottom of the stalks with a knife, she watched sap ooze from the open wounds onto her hands. She felt, not saw, the liquid stain her fingers with memories she had tried, was constantly trying, to forget.

    Jenny tucked the buds into a vase one by one, counting them slowly as she did so: one daughter, two sons together, three, four, five years of bliss, six, seven diamonds in the eternity ring he'd given her with a promise that it wouldn’t happen again, eight, nine years of marriage, ten, eleven unexplained receipts, twelve – the supposedly perfect romantic number. She ran her fingers up and down that last straight stem. It was silky smooth except for the thorn of doubt deep inside her asking why yellow roses, bursting with scent and fading petals?

    Sarah James

  33. "Can I have that?"

    More like a challenge than a question.
    No, "Excuse me". Giving him proper cause to stop -and not then feel ridiculous if he discovered she wasn't calling to him - though he knew perfectly well that she was.
    Wasn't that why he was carrying it?

    "Can I have it?"

    He did slow down, turning in the direction of the voice. She was close and getting closer. The face under a large coarse knitted multi-coloured beret matched the voice. He was no good at guessing people's ages.

    "Can I have the rose?" She said again as she approached. A little breathless. At least she didn't reach out and grab it.
    Maybe a bit younger than him. Longish dark hair, broad smile, beautiful teeth, little make-up, Like a young version of his mother. His mother who had taught him manners - and who loved red roses.

    "I'm on my way to my still life class. We are meant to bring something to draw and today I left mine at home."

    Maybe she was at the university. He wondered where home was.

    "I saw it when you turned into the arcade. It would just be so perfect to draw. See. The petals' edges. My tutor goes on about how edges don't exist. Because the object obviously continues where we can't see.
    Can I have it.?"

    " The way you are carrying it, you look as if you want to give it to someone."

    He looked at the edges of the petals and back up at her face, particularly the line where her hair disappeared under the hat.


    He held it out to her.
    He was sure she gave his hand a little squeeze as she took the flower. Then she turned, smiled, and disappeared into the crowd.

  34. It was only a rose. He had jumped over the wall, slithering on the overspill of a compost heap. Stinking rotten vegetables, he wiped his trainers on the grass.

    Only a rose. He had seen it from the window of his room and wanted it. Wanted to show Lucy that he could be gentle too, that he loved her, never meant to hurt her. It should do the trick, make her forget about last night; he’d be the last true romantic, the hero who sometimes didn’t know his own strength.

    The garden was wilder than he’d expected; he was dwarfed by a maze of entwining stems and leaves. The rose must be at the heart of it. Grabbing a fallen branch he began to thrash his way in. Ahead a glimpse of crimson, a petalled blur. He hacked and harried, thorns snaring his clothes, biting his skin.

    At last he reached a gap, a cave with a skylight of blue, and at his feet a single rose growing. Stretching out his scarred and bloodied arm he pulled; the stem broke, a petal fell. The encircling briars vanished, and were replaced by walls of stone.

    A locked door. A single window, small and high; looking out to a garden filled with people and roses. Everyone was talking, laughing. And there was Lucy. She was moving amongst the crowd, touching arms, smiling, her lip still split, her left eye half-closed and purple-black. She limped, but her step was light, as if all the pain was gone. From one finger she swung a key.

    He called her name. He called for hours, for days, but no-one came.

    Exhausted he sank to the floor, the rose stem limp in his hand, and the final petal fell, into the pool of red at his feet.

  35. “A Rose, is a Rose, is a Rose.” Not for nothing, a renowned English poet wrote these lines. What Magnificent and lovely flower a Rose is and what a lovely aroma it has. Show me a person who does not have an admiration for this petal ornate flowers, who would not dwell in its exuberance, who would not be enthralled by its sanctifying beauty. A keen observation says
    that a Rose flower need not necessarily mean that it should have one rose colour, there are
    Inarguably, red roses, yellow roses, white roses and even black roses. There is in my home
    garden, in Chennai, in India, predominantly roses, and I used to garland the photos of
    my gods in the prayer or pooja room ,that is what we call in India: what an inspiration
    and holiness it spreads around. Sometimes I have made the essence of roses i.e. rose water
    preserved in bottles to be used on occasions. In the corner of the hall where there is a flower vase with artificial flowers decked for show, my son, in a fit of anger threw the vase and removed
    the thick sofa covers to be replaced by soft and elegant ones. My neighbour’s grandson on
    one Sunday morning, knocked at the door, “aunty, I would like to have a Rose for my
    buttonhole For I am supposed to represent my class for the children’s day, could I have one
    flower from Your garden, please!” It was a wintry Sunday morning and there were lovely glassy dew drops and a few on my glasses too, which besmeared, my looks, and Ion my own went into the garden, and plucked one and gave him. But any unauthorised stealing into my unfenced garden, my blood stops I can only shout and cry .

  36. I yearned to be like you back then: attractive but not pretty, slim but not too skinny, intelligent and funny and popular with everyone. People I hardly knew would stop to say ‘Hello’ when we were together. And your clothes, how I wished I too could put together such outfits, effortlessly and with such flair. Why was it I never managed to find such bargains in the local charity shops we trailed through on rainy Saturday afternoons?

    Most of all, I envied you your Camels. I hardly dared to ask for the mysterious, soft packets in the local newsagents – they were too exotic, too pictorial. I usually chickened out and ended up asking for my usual Silk Cut instead. Or if I did dare to ask, I was always disappointed.

    You told me your source - day trips to Boulogne, when you went to the old square for a meal in the French-Creole restaurant with friends. You said you’d take me with you one day. And you did, just once, and I met your friends. They were more ordinary than I’d expected them to be.

    I returned with my own box of Camels in a carton of two hundred.

    That trip changed me – I was no longer in your shadow. I broadened my horizons, went to other towns to trawl through different charity shops and didn’t tell you I was going. I’d come back with a pile of clothes and spend hours trying them out until I found my own look - not something I’d borrowed from you.

    I’ve given up the Camels now because I know they’re no good, and I buy most of my clothes in pretty boutiques in fashionable towns. When I saw you the other day, I wondered why it was you hadn’t moved on too.

  37. All reference points dramatically changed the moment Julia caught sight of the newspaper headline. Subconsciously, a new, heightened sense of awareness invaded her perceptive filters with bludgeoning force.

    For the first time in thirteen years, the sights, sounds and smells of her immediate environment flooded in, threatening sensory overload. A tatty bus shelter, resplendent in crude graffiti and broken Plexiglas panels, occupied seventy percent of panoramic vision from her usual place. In turn, pungent sulphur fumes belched from rattling engines powering the aged, grubby communal vehicles routinely stopping there. Only now did she notice engrained layers of diesel dust, splaying from the window sills, muting the world outside to dreary greyness. Dense waves of slow moving traffic clogged the arterial road beyond the pavement, raising sensations of suffocation and malaise. Beyond the cacophony of idling engines, blaring horns, wailing sirens and hot tempered yelling, little else was heard without straining. Idle chatter of hundreds passing by on foot died in silence, but only now did Julia stop to ask herself, ‘what are they talking about?’

    Beyond the front door, lurked a disjointed, unfathomable world.

    His image regarded her from a sepia prison. How much custom had he put her way? Of the countless thousands he placed into the coffers, how high was the blood money percentage?

    Without doubt, the sinister figure pictured beneath the masthead was her best customer. A very pleasant, quietly spoken man who rolled in every Monday morning at eleven on the dot, ordering exactly the same spray.

    She never stopped to think. His custom was too valuable. How could she have been so blinkered?

    He always sent an anonymous bouquet in condolence for the family of his latest victim. Now she faced recrimination, an unassuming accessory as official florist to the underworld’s most compassionate assassin.

  38. Bridget always knew they had arrived by the tone of the receptionist’s voice. Instead of the usual bored and remote manner, she would be greeted with a hint of excitement, a sense that the receptionist was bursting to tell her what was waiting for her at the front desk.

    Bridget would put her hand flat to her chest when she saw them perched in front of the receptionist. Holding them close to her face she’d smile back at the gerberas’ happy faces, stroke the roses’ tissue paper petals, or relax in the warm rays of the sunflowers. Closing her eyes she’d inhale the fresh scent and the woody stems.

    The flowers were always guaranteed to draw attention. Going back into the office she would walk slowly down the aisle between the desks, the flowers at her waist like a proud bride.

    ‘What’s he done this time?’ the men said, smirking.

    ‘Ooh, you’ve got a good one there,’ said the women, lightly caressing the blooms. It made her smile to think of them pointedly telling their husbands about her when they got home.

    She soaked their languid stalks in water until home time, propping them up in the staff kitchen sink. The miniature envelope, her name handwritten on its cover, facing outwards.

    ‘When are we going to meet this mystery man?’ Janet asked one day as she nudged the flowers out of the way to fill up the kettle.

    ‘He’s abroad a lot,’ Bridget explained, remembering that there was an office party the next month. Suddenly she was flooded with regretted; wondered what they would say if they ever found out. But she’d always been careful; she ordered them from different florists, always paid by cash and never, ever signed the card inside the envelope with anything but a question mark.

  39. Daisy was the first person he told, and even though she knew it was because they were desk neighbours, she was always felt the privilege. Watching him form the words that she knew he would repeat with his face increasingly closed throughout the following weeks and months, she felt an impulse to touch his hand but just missed the moment.
    She told a few people in their office so that they’d understand why James had rushed out, stone white, not needing to avoid his colleagues eyes’ because he didn’t see any of them.
    Daisy told their manager, Steve, who carried the news back home to his wife, Jane. She had never even met James’s wife but soaking up the shock of what had happened was enough to make her walk away from Coronation Street and sit listening to Puccini’s Madam Butterfly for much of the evening.
    Jane told a succession of friends over the following day, including newly-married Louise, who had been involved in a drawn-out feud with her father. She mulled things over for a day and then called him, opting for the simple ‘hello, how are you?’ opener.
    Louise took a cab home from work that week and somehow found herself telling James’s awful story to the driver. He kept his eyes firmly on the road. As he pulled away from the kerb outside Louise’s house, he pushed a Mothercare bag aside and dialled his home number. ‘Alright, lovely? Just checking in’.
    Jane also told her mother, Ann, who was always eager to hear about someone’s misfortune, particularly when the victim was far enough removed from her so that her sympathy could be easily switched off. She swept her local high street with the sad tale, by now distilled into a few simple words – ‘pregnant woman, run over’.

    Claire Murphy

  40. I hadn’t been to Grandma’s in nearly a decade. I never meant to stay away, but life along the scenic route doesn’t bring you over the river and through the woods as often as you’d like.

    How can you be forty-six standing on the porch, but only eight once you walk inside?

    Hardly anything has changed. A parade of Hummels stands frozen on the mantelpiece. Venetian glass sparkles on freshly-polished end tables (can you smell the Lemon Pledge?), close to overflowing with with Werthers and Hershey’s Kisses (you’re allowed one when you get there, and two more after dinner). A gallery of grandkids has spawned snapshots of 30-odd great (and great-great) grandchildren, most of whom have never left Ohio.

    My nose is full of Sunday roast and just a hint of mothballs. Someone could surely bottle this and brand it “Comfort.”

    She’s the only person I know still living at the same address since Kennedy was elected. His portrait still hangs, next to a crucifix, above the recliner I’d shared with Grandpa, curled up on his lap, watching the Wonderful World of Disney and waiting for Tinkerbell to make her final lap behind the castle. “She forgot her girdle again,” Grandma would giggle.

    A 3-foot tall, single-stemmed orchid adorns the hearth, five sets of lavender sepals and petals replacing an antique ashtray stand.

    “I can never keep these,” I muse. “What’s your secret?”

    “Just a little mist,” she smiles, nudging me towards the kitchen. “I made apple crumble.”

    Before I leave, I sneak a closer peek at the orchid.

    “Grandma,” I say, trying to hide my disappointment, “this is silk.”

    “Yep, and a little mist keeps the dust off. I’m 92 years old, the only thing I have time to keep alive is me.”

    bob [at] bobzyeruncle [dot] com

  41. What an awful day! All he wanted was to kick back in his chair, throw back a beer or two and watch the game – in peace – for once. But was that going to happen? Not bloody likely. The kids would be running around like a pack of wild Indians. She would be going on and on about her day. She had probably talked to her mother or his mother or her sisters and she would have to share the whole conversation. – “And then she said” – and “can you imagine”. He, of course, would have to pay attention. Just when the game would be getting good she would want him to take out the trash or come to dinner or change the baby. Just some quiet, for once. Is that so much to ask?
    He had to stop for gas and thought about calling her but decided to avoid conversation for as long as possible. The fog had gotten worse so it took him longer than usual to get home. The game had already started and he thought about circling the block a few more times just so he could enjoy the game a little longer alone but it was already late.
    When he came in the house was dark and silent. Then he saw the red rose petals on the ground. Oh no, did he forget something? Birthday? Anniversary? No. He followed the rose petals to the kitchen and there on the counter was a candle, a red rose and a note.
    “Darling, you sounded tired and worn out when I called you this afternoon. I took the kids to my mothers and I’ve gone out with Susan. There is a cold six pack in the fridge. Relax and enjoy the game. I’ll be back before 10:00. I love you.”

  42. I know where he is. The smell still hangs here in the air from the last one. When I sit alone in the far corner I can see people looking in. I catch them wondering. They think they know what it means.

    When he arrives he’ll stick out his arm, stiff, proud. I must smile. I have perfected it.

    At times I watch him. With his right hand he’ll grip one of the vases tight. With the ring finger of his left hand he’ll tentatively touch the tip of one of the fresh petals, moving it ever so gently until the deep red looks out onto the street. When he leaves I stare at the black spots hidden on the inside, watching them grow, watching them eat into the skin.

    When he is not here I sometimes lift one of them away from the bay window. I close my eyes, squeezing the stem, letting the thorns dig deep into my skin. I brush my hand over the dry petals, cold and stiff. I let the hidden mildew fall into the lines of my palm, watching it stain my skin.

    People stop outside the window. Some stand at the far side of the street, some peer straight in – no one able to resist the array of red. When someone he knows stops to admire his display, he directs me over to the window. After turning on the spotlight, I must carefully choose the freshest rose. After holding it delicately, I bring it up to my nose, inhaling the sickening scent deep inside my lungs. I can feel his eyes on me. I then pout my full painted lips, kissing the rose, slowly, slower, stroking the stem. When they are finished he turns out the spotlight. He turns out all the lights.

    Peter Ferry

  43. Vera sees a man in front of her carrying a single red rose and it’s suddenly as if she’s floating down the street in a vacuum. The busy traffic and throngs of people around her become hushed and dreamlike. Her footsteps feel disconnected, like she’s walking on the moon. She stops at the window of a travel agent. All the cards are blurred, like everything else in her life has been since Bill died, since she realised that it’s too late to change anything now.

    Theirs had never been a red rose sort of marriage. It had been a good one, if you looked at it through the right eyes, and Bill had always given her appropriate gifts on the stipulated occasions. Early on in their marriage Vera had discovered a jewellery box carefully hidden between Bill’s socks. She’d peeked inside and seen the most delicate sapphire bracelet, unlike anything he’d ever given her before. Beautiful. She’d carefully tucked it back between his socks and waited patiently for her surprise. The days had faded into weeks, the weeks into months and her excitement had slowly curdled. That was how she had found out about Monique.

    She’d never said anything to Bill because it had suited her to think she had nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so - the lovely home, the holidays abroad, bridge, tennis, the children’s happiness, the respect and envy of their friends. It was a small price to pay and so she turned a blind eye.

    But today, seeing the man with the red rose, she realises that the price was far higher than she ever realised. She has compromised her whole adult life and it is too late to go back now. No one has ever given her a single red rose.


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