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The Rose MAG
"Two dollars, kiddo." The phrase seemed so familiar to James O'Brien, but every time he said it there was a new and different person standing in front of him, and a totally different story.
He had been sitting in his plaid lawn chair on the side of Route 159 every night for three years. Every time a rose left the brown bucket of icy water, another person left some reason for buying the flower.
The color says it all, James had concluded, after so much experience selling roses. White was his favorite because those were the most interesting stories: someone was always feeling bad about something when they bought white. The red rose symbolized passion: lovers were always trying to spice up their love life in some simple way. Pink was a color that just screamed, "I like you, but I am too shy to tell you!" James always gave these customers a funny smile to let them know it was all right to be timid. Finally, the people who purchased a yellow rose were looking for forgiveness - usually those who had cheated on their significant other.
"Hey. Um ... how much would a dozen roses be?" The blond, middle-aged man had the look in his eyes.
"I don't know. It all depends on who you are buying 'em for. Some sweetheart of yours, I suppose. Or maybe you're bringing them home to your lovely mother?" James always loved kidding around with his customers.
Then his mind started doing it again. All other thoughts faded away, and he fantasized the story of this man's love life. He imagines this man going home to a warm, inviting house where his blond-haired, blue-eyed wife waited for him. The kids were all asleep and there was no noise of trains, toy guns, or the television blaring Barney songs: the All-American family. The wife had not expected this surprise, so she is wearing her old pajamas and her hair is simply held back with her daughter's Rainbow Brite elastic.
The man strolls in, as if carried by the warm air surrounding the room. The wife, not even looking up, mumbles a hello. She is surprised by the strong arms of her husband engulfing her petite frame. After a few seconds of waltzing around the room, he suddenly dips her down, planting a long, passionate kiss on her lips.
"Honey, have you been drinking?" she asks with a giggle.
The man shakes his head and gently caresses her hand. He picks her up off of her feet and carries her up the stairs. The whole time, his eyes do not leave hers. There is a deep feeling of uncontrollable passion in the air. As they open the door of the bedroom, she notices red pedals on the white carpet. They lead to the bed, where a whole bouquet of roses is placed on the soft pillows. There is an overwhelming feeling of love all around.
She has but one question, "Why?"
"Because you are the red rose in my desolate garden and I love you with all my heart."
"Excuse me, sir. I hate to bother you. I just need one pink rose, I guess." The first thing James saw when he snapped out of his fantasy world was the green H on a husky football player's jacket.
James blushed as he exchanged two dollars for the delicate flower. How could he think up those silly stories? But as soon as the jock jumped into his sports car, James' mind started wandering into fantasy-land again.
He imagined the young man going to pick up his crush for a nice night out. Her hair was soft and wavy, and as she got in the car, it filled with the smell of her flowery perfume. That always made him smile.
"Emily, I have to tell you something." The boy's palms were sweating because he knew he had to give her the big surprise that was in the back seat. "I have been thinking a lot lately, and I really think ... "
"No, please, no. Don't say it. This is so unfair! Every time I start truly liking a guy, he ends up dumping me." The tears started rolling down her cheeks, making little rivers in her make-up.
"Wait! Emily, you don't know what you're saying. You have to give me a chance. What I am trying to say is that I've been having this feeling lately that we are meant to be together. I care for you and I want to be with you." As soon as the words were out of his mouth he looked her straight in the eyes and wiped away her salty tears.
Suddenly, the pink rose appeared in front of her. Her face melted with happiness. She took a deep breath and the beautiful scent took over her senses. She could almost taste how luscious the flower was.
Without a word, they embraced. All the feelings of doubt and worry were gone. They were in their own world, where everything was perfect. They held each other tightly, taking in all the smells around them.
A tap on the shoulder was all it took to jolt James back to reality. A broad-looking young man requested a single white rose.
"One, only one?" said James, in that familiar joking voice. The man stood in front of him with pain in his eyes, even though he spoke so few words. "Yes, just one," he said.
"Okay then, here you go. I hope this goes to someone special," said James with a soft laugh.
"Oh, yes, this person was the light of my life." Then the man disappeared into the coldness of the afternoon.
"Was? What did he mean by that?" With those few words, James' mind trailed off once again.
As the man walked up to the black, steel gate he glanced at the sign: Lakeview Cemetery.
"Oh, how I wish I weren't here. Why can't I be in there, and she in my place?" he said with a whimpering sigh. He walked in slowly, meandering through the different headstones. Then he was there - at her grave. The headstone was a beautiful heart, symbolizing hers. Since her heart was twice the size of any regular person, the stone was fitting.
He looked around at the cemetery before he sat with her. It was bleak, lonely. Some of the headstones were not cared for, causing him to wonder if the deceased even had loved ones to come and talk to them. He glanced quickly at the new grave of a 17-year-old boy. His heart sank at once.
"That wasn't here a week ago. I know it wasn't," he said with a brief sigh. He made it a point to try to visit every Friday. But never had he seen this child's grave. As he looked at the dirt on the coffin and the plethora of flowers, his eyes suddenly filled with tears. There was even a picture of the boy, who looked happy. The man jerked his head away, for he could no longer take in the death he had just seen. But as he did, he gradually caught a glimpse of every tombstone. He started to think out loud: "Why does anyone have to die? Was that boy so awful that God had to take him away? I don't get it, why? WHY!?!"
As the tears rolled down his face, he began to talk to his wife: "Honey, how are you? I, I don't know if I said this a lot when you were alive, but I love you. I love you more than anything else in the world. I am sorry it took me so long to realize how strong our love actually was." There was a silent pause as he cried more. "Well, I wanted you to know I think of you every day, every minute, and every hour. Not a day goes by that I do not think I am smelling the sweet scent of your beautiful, honey-colored hair. Oh God!" He suddenly screamed, causing a flock of birds in the tree above to scramble to the air. "Why God, why? You took my life away from me! Why?!?"
He fell to the ground sobbing and closed his eyes. Five minutes later he opened them, smelling the scent of the white rose clutched in his hand. He got up and brushed himself off, placing the rose on the ground next to her grave, whispering, "I love you." Then he forced himself to walk away from all the pain. At the entrance, he took one last look. "See you soon," he said with a sigh, and walked out.
"Buddy? Hey buddy, c'mon," said the man standing in front of James with a furious look on his face.
"Oh, I am terribly sorry. I guess I was a little lost in my thoughts."
"Well, anyway, I need a dozen yellow roses immediately," the anxious man said, still looking at James with an intense glare.
"Yellow? Are you trying to make something up to someone?" James always asked silly questions even though he knew it was none of his business.
"Yeah, something like that. Now, c'mon, can you hurry it up a little? I haven't got all year." The man was getting edgy.
"Here you go then. Have a nice day," said James in his friendly tone.
"Yeah, thanks." The man then literally ran off toward the taxi cabs, waving his arm back and forth, trying to hail one.
"Hum, I wonder what that was all about. I mean, yellow, yellow is a color for people who are sorry for something, and that man definitely looked like he could use some forgiving." Then once again his mind trailed off into that oh-so-familiar world of which he always seemed to find himself a part.
"We can't; we can't do this anymore, I told you," said a man in a soft whisper. He was on the phone in his living room, anxiously looking up the stairs for any movement.
"Why not? You said you loved me! You said I was the only one who actually made you smile. Why, all of a sudden, are you changing your mind? Does she know about us?" As the voice of a strange-sounding woman cried out on the other end, the man slowly put his hand over his eyes.
"No. No, of course she doesn't know about us. Are you crazy? Do you actually think I would still be in my house right now if she knew?" he said in a much louder voice than before. "Listen. I want to talk face to face with you. Talking on the phone is just too risky; if she picks up I'm through. Meet me at Joe's Diner on 45th and Main Street."
"When?" she asked.
"Fifteen minutes, all right? Be there, please. I'll see you then." They hung up. There was silence in his living room, as he sat still covering his face with his hand.
As he drove to the diner, he saw her standing outside, her beautiful figure silhouetted in the streetlight. "Oh, I wish I didn't have to do this."
"Hey, there," she said as she walked toward him, wrapping her hands around his neck, kissing him. "I didn't think you were going to show up."
"I had to get changed, and that wasn't that easy with my wife sound asleep in bed next to the closet," he snapped.
"Were you serious about ending it? I need to know, because I can't go on like this. I love you so much it hurts, and to think that you are a married man makes it all the more painful," she said as the tears rolled down her face. "Ever since the first day, you have made me feel special, beautiful. You weren't like any of the other guys; I thought you were different. But now I don't know. I mean, you tell me you love me, that I am the only one who has ever made you feel this way. And the next minute, you tell me it's over!" She started to cry harder, pacing back and forth on the wet pavement.
"I never meant for it to be this complicated. I never meant to fall in love with you. But I love my wife, and she doesn't deserve this. She has given me all the love she can, and look how I repay her - by cheating on her. I can't deal with the lies and the pain. I'm sorry, but it's -"
"No. No, you idiot, it's not over. Don't say that!" As she interrupted him, her face transforming from sadness to raging fury.
"I'm sorry, but there is no way we can continue like this. It is just too hard," he responded.
"You never did love me; you just said that! I never want to talk to you again! I hate you!" With those words, she got into her car and sped off into the night.
As he ambled up the walkway to the front door of his house, he pondered everything - all the times he had snuck out at all hours, like a teenager. All the times he had come home to her after he had been with his mistress. He felt awful, like someone had stabbed him in the heart. He opened the door gently, carefully stepped inside and closed it. Tip-toeing to the stairs, he went to flip on the light switch, but it went on itself.
"Where were you?" his wife said in a monotone.
"I felt sick. I needed some fresh air," he quickly responded, hoping she wouldn't catch on.
"Don't lie to me. I know exactly where you were," she screamed.
"Well, I don't know what you're talking about, honey. Where do you think I was?"
"Well, this night it was Joe's Diner. Last night it was the Holiday Inn. Wednesday it was the All-Niter Motel. The list goes on and on. Must I continue?" she said.
"Oh my God. How did you, when did you? I,I don't know what to say, but I'm sorry." He wanted to say more, to explain what had happened tonight, but those were the only words that his mouth would allow him to say.
"I'm sorry? I'm sorry? I give you the best years of my life, and you cheat on me with some blonde bimbo, but all you have to say for yourself is, AI'm sorry?'" She knew all the things to say to make him feel worse. "I think you'd better leave - now." And with that she turned and walked up the stairs. He decided it would be better to leave than to stay and make things worse.
Later that night he couldn't sleep - constantly thinking about his sad wife, sitting at home on their bed, wondering what went wrong. But that was just the thing. It had nothing to do with her - it was him. He had never felt pain like this before, but deep inside, he knew she was right and he was wrong. He deserved this. So he decided he would stop at nothing to get her back before it was too late.
When morning came he was ready to go win back the love of his life, if it meant waiting forever, he would do it. He decided on yellow roses, the true color of forgiveness.
"Oh, what a sad, sad story," James said as he began to look at his watch, "Ten-thirty already?" With that he carefully folded up his lawn chair and placed it in the back of his truck. "I guess I'm done for today. Don't think any more customers will be coming this late." Picking up the bucket, he noticed that there were only a few roses left. Two yellow ones, one white, three pink, and two red. So he took one of each color and put the rest in their plastic containers for the night. Pouring out the water, he placed the bucket in the front seat. "What day is it?" he asked himself. "Friday? Already, my, how the week does fly." James got into the truck and slowly began to drive away.
Turning down the narrow roads he whistled a sweet little tune, thinking happy thoughts. With the brake lights flashing in the rear of the car, he turned on his left blinker. Glancing up at the sign that so boldly said Lakeview Cemetery, he began to feel lonely again. He headed straight for the familiar tombstone of his loving wife, Emily. Taking each rose delicately in one hand, using the other to place each one down, he said: "Pink, pink for the first time I told you I loved you, even though I was a scared high school jock. Red, red for the passion that burned inside of each of us, every day we were together. Yellow, yellow for all the mistakes I made along the way. And white, white for the sadness I feel, knowing you are no longer here to share life with me." When he was finished he turned to walk away. "I love you, my beautiful wife." 1