Roses by Molly Andrea-Ryan
When she was little, she used the gazing ball like a funhouse mirror, watching her cheeks stretch as she danced around in circles, chanting incantations of made-up words. In college, it had only poked fun at her body dysmorphia, asking, Just how wide can we make those thighs?
Now, she wonders what it would feel like to take it off its plaster pedestal and kick it down the street, what sound it would make when it broke. She splays her fingers and follows the curvature with her fingertips. The glass is cold from the March air, almost wet to the touch.
What would they think if she cracked it like an egg? If she picked it up and hurled it against the window? The nieces and nephews she barely recognizes anymore, the aunts and uncles, all huddled around her mother like she’s some kind of grieving campfire—would it shock them out of pretending like they understand what was lost?
She wipes her fingers on her pantleg. Stepping back, she watches as the early rosebuds take on their new shape in the curved glass, how the red and yellow petals transform under the suggestion of purple tint. In a few months, the yard will be empty of rose bushes. Without her father to tend them, they will become the charge of the church, orphans replanted in a prayer garden.
Closing her eyes, she grips the gazing ball in both hands and holds it over her head. She breathes in the smell of lingering dew on year-old mulch and looks up to see her own funhouse face staring back at her. Then, she lets it drop and it shatters on the concrete.
When her wife dies thirty years later, she tells the funeral director she doesn’t want to see a single rose at the service. She buys wilting bouquets of ranunculus from the grocery store and places them in empty gold-painted wine bottles. They look foolish, their heads turned every which way like they’ve never lost anything in their lives.
After the service ends, she stands at the back of the reception hall with a crumpled paper cup gripped in her hand. Coffee roils in her otherwise empty stomach and she walks to the bathroom to throw up.
Washing and drying her hands, she spots a soft touch of pink in the trashcan and finds a cluster of cut roses buried beneath a wad of paper towel. A gift from an unsuspecting guest, she supposes, someone from her wife’s side of the family. She wonders who tipped them off, the funeral director or her brother. She pushes aside the paper towels and pulls the bouquet from the trash, shaking loose the wispy backing of a menstrual pad clinging to a bruised petal.
That night, she falls asleep with both lamps and the overhead light on, the bouquet of roses tucked beneath the comforter on her wife’s side of the bed. Their fragile blooms rest against the pillowcase she can’t bring herself to wash.
In the morning, she awakens to find the roses battered and broken beneath the arm she must have extended in search of her wife’s sleeping form. She scoops the stems into her fist and carries them with her as she walks down the hallway and into the kitchen. She fills a vase with water for her defeated bouquet and pours herself a cup of day-old coffee. She pulls on a housecoat and steps into her slippers before carrying the vase out to the front walkway.
The neighbor across the street looks up from their lawnmower and waves. She waves back and lifts the vase over her head before letting it drop. The neighbor stares as she walks back into her empty home, leaving behind a mess of shattered glass and dying roses.
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