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Roses and Rain
I didn’t expect him there. I don’t think anyone did, really, and not looking like that. But I guess… I guess I should’ve known, because when you make a gypsy a promise, they call up on it. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.
There was something fundamentally wrong with fluffy pink slippers at a funeral, but that was how I’d seen him first, one year ago. Wearing fluffy pink slippers and ragged blue jeans and glasses that kept sliding down his hawk nose, and I guess he wanted to remind me. I’d made the deal with him then, begged and cajoled and bribed. But his terms were clear. Balance, he said. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth… life for life. And he’d touched my chest then, mine and hers. Roses. Two matching black roses, just over our hearts. We said they’d been tattoos. We lied.
He came up to me then, standing beside the grave. I almost turned, almost asked -- but one look into those gray eyes stopped me. He turned to me, the gypsy, and never removing his gaze from mine, lay one single black rose on her grave. My wife, for 364 days. Almost a year. That was what he had promised on that day, with a mug of coffee in one hand and a rolled up newspaper in the other. He could give her a year. A year of life, a year of love. 365 days beating out from a dead heart.
“When?” I asked. The word almost choked me, but I didn’t have a choice. When? I’d asked him that before. Then, I thought it was worth it. Maybe. Maybe not. A life for a life, he’d said, in that small living room. Delays double, both lives lost. I’d answered without even thinking, said yes, I didn’t want to live without her. He’d laughed, said I’d have to. I wouldn’t die, not really. He never explained that. He’d said I’d know when it was time. “When?” I’d asked… When, I asked…
“Tonight,” he stated. The breeze brushed through his hair, dark blond waves shifting in the wind. “Balance.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “You said that before.”
“Still true. Delays double. It has to be tonight.” Tonight… tonight I’d lose my life. And perhaps gain another’s.
“Else what?” I almost wanted to see, wanted to let it happen. But even if I could, even if I didn’t know the consequences… he wouldn’t let me.
He didn’t answer. He just gave me a look, and held it. He held it for so long, held it until I felt everything rising up in me, until I felt my soul stripped bare in front of him. I wanted to look away, wanted it like I wanted to live, and maybe they weren’t so different things, but he didn’t let me. It might have been seconds, might have been centuries. It didn’t matter. It would have been just as painful.
Then, he let me go, staring up at the sky. He turned to me, giving me a strange little smile. “You have until the rain starts.”
Then, he walked away, pink slippers and all. And I stood there, in the middle of the cemetary, and waited for the rain.