A short story of 999 words, written for the Writer's Cramp Challenge 8/25/19.
| The Roses
It is laying there outside my door. One single rose! This is not the first one that I have found, leaving me thinking that they must be meant for me. Do I really have a secret admirer?
I look at my scruffy jeans, my tatty sweatshirt, most of my clothes have seen much better days. The same could be said for the body inside them. Too many years of abuse, lack of care, have taken their toll. I'm not fat but I'd be first to admit I could do with a bit of toning.
I look around me, trying to spot the person that might have left this, and the previous four, at the bottom of my garden steps. I take a quick mental inventory of my neighbors. There's George, a widower, at least eighty years old; Kenneth and Dez, but they are a couple and I would hold no attraction for them; and there's Steve that lives next door, but I think his wife, Mandy would have something to say if it were him.
It's a shame to waste it. When the first one had appeared, at the start of the week, I had thought of tossing it straight in to the bin. I didn't; I took it indoors, trimmed the stem and stuck it in a vase. The first had been white, the second pale lemon. Then there had been a bloom of lilac, and today's is candy pink. The colors are getting deeper.
I place the rose into the vase with the others. They all still look fresh and healthy, but I know their beauty will soon fade. Shaking my head to banish the slightly morose thought, I decide that I will just take advantage of them while they are there and breathe in their subtle aroma.
Once again, I decide to leave the television off. Everything seems to be so depressing these days. Perhaps I should have more interest in what is going on in the big wide world but, for now at least, I much prefer immersing myself in a book.
Maybe I have stumbled upon the answer. I'd thought it so unlikely that I'd have an admirer, but maybe it was not intended that way at all. Perhaps someone had noticed how down I had been getting and had decided to leave the roses as a way of cheering me up. Thinking of it in that way, it could well have been Kenneth or Dez. Should I ask? To be honest, I found the idea too embarrassing; better to just enjoy the gesture.
The fifth rose was red, a bit lighter in shade to those you saw so much of around Valentine's Day. Its scent seemed stronger than that of the others. Placed in the vase with the paler blooms around it, it was that one that drew the eye and held it. The petals of the white rose were just starting to lose their freshness, but you would not notice unless you looked really closely.
I could not shake the feeling that soon they would cease. No one was going to keep on leaving me a single rose, especially when I had not even said, 'Thank you'. I would leave a note, a small card, out on the step where I found the roses. The donor would at least know that they had been appreciated.
The sixth rose was a deep red, like blood. I shuddered as I picked it up and carried it inside. As I trimmed the stem, a thorn pierced my finger. I cursed when a drop of blood welled up, smeared the stem. It didn't matter, it would wash off in the water.
I almost threw it away. It's color was just too strong to mix with the others. Nonsense, I scolded myself. Since when had I been so hung up on harmony. Besides, it probably had cost the giver as much as the rest put together. It would not be long before the whole bunch of them ended up in the bin. Roses never lasted forever.
I switched on the television. I had a sudden urgent need to hear another voice, even if it would be one spreading doom and gloom. Better than silence, I thought. I just caught the end of a report about a murderer, someone that was believed to have killed at least twice. We all, the newscaster urged, should be extra vigilant. And then it was on to some crisis across the other side of the world. There was always a crisis somewhere; I tuned out the details and just let the voice fill the silence.
This morning all the roses are dead; well, almost all. That blood red one is still flourishing but the others have suddenly lost their will to exist. Would they still be blooming if I had followed my instincts and thrown the latest addition away?
Angry at myself for thinking such stupid thoughts, I pulled the five dead blooms from the vase and tossed them in the bin, leaving the deep red one standing there alone. Would there be another to accompany it? I'd find out soon enough.
And yes, when I return home there it is, a rose. This one gives me a sense of foreboding for its petals are of deepest black. I don't believe I've seen one that shade before. I sniff it warily. The scent of rose is still there, mixed with something else, something earthy.
I take it inside, begin to trim the stem. The knife in my hand is sharp, but still it comes as a shock to me when blood seems to flow from the stem. Roses don't bleed. People do.
I hadn't felt the pain of the blade as it sliced through my neck, not until it registered in my mind that the blood was my own. There so much, flowing so quickly. I begin to fall to the floor, reaching out, gripping on to that single rose of black.