Blow Up The Roses

Here’s an exclusive extract from a dark novel called Blow Up The Roses, by Randy Attwood. Let us know what you think.

It was one of the most wonderful hours of her new life, the post-Mr. Keene life. She liked watching Mr. Califano’s silver head pop down as he reached out to touch a rose and call its name. He seemed enraptured by his rose garden. His hands were muscular and tanned. Strong. Yet they caressed the roses. His knowledge about them was amazing. He proudly showed some varieties that he himself had created. He was obviously proud of the deep red variety he had made and named Annabella. “My Annabella,” he called it and told her he worried that at rose shows, inside, away from natural light, the deepness of the red might not be really noticed and truly appreciated by the judges. “You’ve just got to see her in the sunlight to appreciate her. And here, here’s the one I named after Janet because its color was like her hair. I made a bouquet of them for the funeral.”

They walked down another path with roses on both sides.

“There are more meanings for roses in the language of flowers than any other flower,” he told her.

“Language of flowers?”

“Giving flowers and bouquets used to be a kind of shorthand for saying things you couldn’t say outright.”

“Like a single red rose is supposed to mean ‘I love you?'”

“Yes, that’s about the only flower telegraph that people know. Giving a white rose and a red rose means ‘I love you silently.'”

“And a yellow rose?” she asked touching the one next to her.

“A decrease in love, or jealousy. That’s my Glenfiddich. It’s a nice yellow, like butter.”

“What do some other flowers mean?”

“A daisy stands for innocence and hope. Daffodil is unrequited love. Rhododendron is grave danger. Different geraniums have meanings from deceit and stupidity to true friendship.”

“Best to know your geranium varieties.”

“Yes, indeed. Some of us play the flower language game at the rose shows by sending each other bouquets. I once sent a woman a red rose and a geranium to mean ‘I love your true friendship.’ But I sent a horse-leaf geranium, which meant ‘I love your stupidity.’ I knew something was wrong when she sent back just a simple sprig of basil, ‘I hate you.'”

“So other plants have meanings?”

“Oh yes, not just flowers. Rosemary is remembrance, mint stands for virtue. Corn means riches, unless it’s broken and that means quarrel. Dead leaves means sadness. Weeds, too. Dandelion means depart. Fruits, too. Apple means temptation, easy to understand where that one came from, Eve and the apple. Trees, too. Elm stands for dignity, the way the tree looks, don’t you think. Just as Cypress stands for death.”

“And that bouquet you brought this morning?”

“Well, yes,” he said and felt himself blushing. “Blue periwinkles mean early friendship and I took the thorns off the single rose so that means hope for an early attachment. Thorns taken off a rose also means there is nothing to fear.”

“That’s sweet.”

Now he really was blushing.

“Ready for that coffee?”

“Yes,” she said.

The coffee he served her was better than any she had ever made. The deck behind his house overlooked the rose garden and the mixed scents of the roses floating up to her were almost intoxicating. The aroma of the roses were lifting her up like a soft gentle hand raising her head to see the morning sun. They were quiet for a while, sipping at the coffee, listening to the birds, watching the sunlight begin to strike the garden.

“My wife suffered from depression and agoraphobia,” he interrupted the quiet and there was in his voice a tone that captured her full attention. “You know, a fear of open spaces, of going out. Only I didn’t know that name then. People didn’t seek help, or even

know help was available, back then. Our child was stillborn and she couldn’t have children after that and I think that affected her. We just always lived in midtown apartments where everything could be delivered to her. Then in the early 1970s she got Alzheimer’s, only they didn’t call it Alzheimer’s then, they called it early dementia, but I’m sure now that’s what it was. I had to put her in a nursing home and it was bankrupting me. I had to divorce her or I would have lost everything, I couldn’t even support myself and pay her bills. There was no family to help. So I had to divorce her. She didn’t know who I was anyway. She became a ward of the court and they put her in a state hospital. I used to visit her. Saddest place I’ve ever been. She died there. At least her body died there. Her mind died years before. I don’t know about her soul.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Keene said and really was because she could see the pain in his eyes. She wanted to help him and could think of no way other than to voice her own grief.

“The cul d’sac knows about it, so you must, too. I’ve never talked about it, except to the police, maybe because I still can’t admit it myself. My husband, Mr. Keene,” how stupid she thought, of course my husband is Mr. Keene. “Michael, his name is Michael. You know I haven’t spoken his first name since he left, disappeared, deserted me. It’s easier if I think of him as Mr. Keene. I’ve tried to understand why Michael left, but now I don’t really care anymore. I’m glad he’s gone. I wish he’d left years ago.”

Mr. Califano was looking at her and his blue eyes filmed with water. “I wish I would have left my wife years before she got ill. It’s like my life was tied, constricted by her miseries. But ‘in sickness and in health.’ I just wish she would have died years earlier than she did. Isn’t that a terrible admission?”

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