The Wilting Rose

By Sue Simpson

Chain Border

If this were a romantic novel, it would be said that she chose the rose with infinite care; sorting through them to find the one perfectly pouting with velveteen petals as full of vertilising growth hormone as a jaded starlet's lips are with collagen. But this isn't a romantic novel and Rivvy didn't choose the rose with any kind of care. It was late, she had a million and one things to do and by four in the afternoon she was meeting herself coming back, which would have been fine if the coming back 'her' had done all the jobs that had to be done, but of course she hadn't.

She rushed into the Co-op almost upskittling an elderly lady with a shopping bag on wheels. The trolley ran into Rivvy's ankle and the old lady swore at her in a manner most unbecoming of sweet old ladies. Rivvy hobbled off apologising until out of earshot and then a little bit further in case this old bag was one of the exceptions to the rule that had overly astute hearing and then muttered a nasty little incantation concerning euthanasia and the elderly.

The flowers were by the front door, and as she'd swerved to avoid the elderly destroyer, she had almost sat on them. There were some overly priced and rather tired looking bouquets. Better then the usual assortment naturally given that today was Valentine's day, but still sweaty looking in their garish cellophane wrappings. And there in a bucket on its own sat a lonely looking single rose. It looked pathetic and one of the outer petals had a brown mark where the ageing process had already begun to desiccate it. She tutted at its imperfection and tried hard not to make similes to their own browning relationship as she plucked it from its bucket and threw it carelessly into the basket. She felt irritated by the fact that the rose wasn't absolutely perfect, but not irritated enough to pay the extra four-ninety-nine to make it up to the seven quid for the cheapest spindly bunch of flowers. Tonight would be special; nothing was going to spoil it for her, not even a wilting rose.

She'd bought him 'The Jazz Singer' on video; it was his all time favourite film and she knew he'd be thrilled. The evening she had planned centred round watching it together later on. It didn't seem enough though, after all this was their first Valentines day together and things had been a little shaky lately Almost without thinking she threw a paperback book into the trolley, and then a CD. After all some music might go down well too she thought. Chocolates! You can't do Valentine's day without choccies. A medium to largish box tumbled on top of the pair of 'Horny Devil' boxer shorts that she just couldn't resist. Stuff for the evening meal was next, all fresh, no processed stuff tonight, only the best of everything this special evening. Lastly she moved slowly into the dessert aisle. Tiramisu lovely! Rich and dark with the sharp tang of alcohol and the sweetness of the whipped mousse. He had never had Tiramisu, never even heard of it; tonight she would educate him in the delights of Italy's finest when it came to desserts. She was about to head for the check out when she had a niggle of doubt; what if he didn't like Tiramisu? She threw a large tub of Belgian chocolate and bitter orange ice cream into the trolley as well. It would be so romantic eating it in front of the fire straight out of the tub. The family sized banoffee pie looked good too, so she chucked one of those in for good measure.

It could perhaps be said that Rivvy had a tendency to over-do things, but she was in love and tonight was the ideal opportunity to show him just how much in love she was. The effort was all going to be worth it, not to mention the expense. She'd written his card earlier in the day. It was a cutesy one with lovey-dovey teddies on the front. She took time and care writing her special words of love. Her handwriting wasn't good and she had always been ashamed of it, but what she lacked in scribe finesse she made up for in heartfelt sincerity. She was pleased with her efforts and as a little something extra she popped a scratch card with roses on into the card.

"Good Luck my love," she whispered as she sealed the envelope. Wouldn't it be wonderful, she thought, if the scratch card she had bought him for Valentines Day was one of the big winners? She never bought scratch cards for herself; hell she couldn't win an argument, but the thought of slipping one into his card as an added surprise was pleasing.

Once she got home the race against time was really on. She had to fling the Hoover round to make it nice for him coming home and even more importantly fling herself in the shower and get the evening meal in the oven all in less than an hour.

Her hair was still damp when he walked in. she was warm with rushing round and she knew that the heady smell of her shampoo would be mingling with her favourite perfume. She'd put a skirt on and her best underwear. She hardly ever wore skirts and her satin frillies rarely got an airing mid week. He didn't seem to notice. He returned her hug half-heartedly.

"What's for tea love, I'm starving?"

The home-cry of many a working man the nation wide, but couldn't he have broken with tradition just this one night?

"Wow look at you! You look fantastic." Couldn't he have managed that, just once?

Apparently not. She told him what was for their meal and he made all the right appreciative noises.

He had nothing in his arms for her, no humongous bouquet of flowers. Maybe he was teasing her, perhaps he had something deliciously extravagant already secreted somewhere in the house just waiting the perfect romantic moment to spring his surprise on her. Would it be unrealistic to dream of diamonds and all they implied? Well a girl could dream couldn't she? She had already tried the name on for size and she thought it fit her beautifully.

"I've run your bath darling it's all ready for you, want me to come up and scrub your back while dinner finishes?"

He pulled a face, it was the 'I've been at work all day and I'm tired please just leave me alone will you' face.

"No thanks Riv, I'm just going to grab a really quick bath, I'll be in and out in two seconds. Why don't you go and get those fantastic smells dished up for us eh?"

She felt deflated, there had been a time when he'd flung her into the bath with him clothes and all. These days more and more often he shrugged her away when she tried to be affectionate with him. As for the bedroom department, well she couldn't remember the last time they'd gone to bed together.

"You go up love, I'm just going to watch the end of this documentary."

Often he didn't make it to bed at all and she'd find him the next morning asleep on the sofa, his six foot two frame curled awkwardly into the five foot one furniture; where was the comfort in that? She heard him singing to himself in the bathroom, at least he sounded quite happy. Tonight would be different. Tonight they would not only rekindle the spark that used to be between them, but they'd light it up like a guy fawkes on bonfire night.

The faint sound of his mobile phone ringing drifted down from the bathroom.

Contrary to what he'd told her about not being long, he seemed to take forever in the bathroom. And then she heard his electric razor going in the bedroom. She couldn't remember the last time he'd bothered to shave mid week. She smiled. He was making an effort after all. It was going to be perfect.

She met him at the foot of the stairs; he looked and smelled wonderful. He wore a new shirt that she'd never seen before, it wasn't like him to shop for himself, normally he left all the clothes buying to her now. They'd been together almost twelve months and she knew his taste better than he knew it himself. It was nice that he'd bought something new to wear, she wondered if there might be a little something in the line of new clothing for her too.

He gripped her lightly by the shoulders. His face wore that all too familiar worried yet defiant look that she had come to know. The one that said that he knew he was going to upset her, but that he didn't really care.

"Look love, Tony's just rung. Wants me to nip to the pub for a quick pint with him, you know how it is. He's been fighting with the missus again. Plate up my dinner and I'll heat it up when I get back okay? Just a couple of pints and I'll be back home before you know it. Promise! I love you."

He was almost out of the door when she called him back.

"Please don't go out, not tonight, I've got plans, presents, I've bought you presents and things. You know it's Valentines day, don't you?"

"Yeah, look, sorry love. I didn't get you anything, I'm skint until I get paid tomorrow, but I'll buy you something nice then okay?"

He took the pile of gifts she handed him. He almost dropped the things at the top of the tower and opened them awkwardly standing there by the door. He made ooh and ahh noises as he opened each one, but she could see that he was impatient to be away.

"Thanks darling." He kissed her briefly on the cheek either oblivious to, or uncaring of, the pools of unshed tears that were forming in her eyes. He waved the Jazz Singer video at her.

"Love this, love it! We'll watch it when I get back eh?"

Just before eleven-o-clock that night Rivvy went to bed alone. He wasn't back from the pub and she had no desire to fight with him when he finally came back staggering and belligerent.

She woke him with a cup of coffee and hot toast the next morning and he uncurled from the confines of the sofa. He seemed moody. That was not unusual after a night on the beer. No doubt his head was aching, but there was something else. He was fidgety and looked at her with a new expression that she couldn't read. He seemed a little bit sad and a whole lot on edge.

There was no kiss as Rivvy left for work. He was still in the bathroom preparing for his own workday. She couldn't wait any longer and had to leave with a yelled 'Goodbye' up the stairs.

The day was a long one. She worked later than usual and was glad to be home. He would already be in, she wondered wistfully if he might have flung the vacuum round or begun to prepare the evening meal. Well it would be a first if he had, she didn't think he even knew how the Hoover worked.

The house was ominously silent; normally he would have either the tele or some music on, often both. If not the Play Station would be blasting away with him shouting profanities at the screen. There was nothing, and although it wasn't unusual for him not to be there Rivvy knew instinctively that he wasn't just 'out.'

She stood for a moment in the hall prolonging the moment when her world would crack like an egg knocked against a frying pan rim. How did she know he was gone? The house was often empty when he got home so what was so different about this time?

Maureen.

She didn't have to be told, she just knew, had known for months, but had tried desperately not to hear his mumbled voice calling her at night. Had believed him when he said they were just friends.

Only she hadn't believed him had she? Not really, she only pretended to fool herself that he was telling the truth. All these thoughts passed through her mind in a whirlwind of pain as she turned the handle into the lounge.

The video rack looked like the smile of somebody with ruined teeth, black holes seemed to grin at her from where his videos had been removed from their collection. The Jazz Singer was gone.

It was the same with the C.D rack. Had he really owned as many C.D's as he had taken? His silver tankard was gone from the display cabinet and the framed picture of his daughter had been removed from above the fireplace where Rivvy had insisted it be given pride of place. She could go upstairs and check the wardrobe, but there was no point. She knew there would be empty shelves where his clothes had been. And his collection of aftershaves and hygiene products would have gone from the shelf at his side of the bed. She always had to move his book off the pillow in the mornings before she could make the bed, why he always left it there she didn't know but it irritated her. She wouldn't be moving his book anymore. She wondered how close he was to finishing it.

He was gone.

In the kitchen an empty vase stood by the sink still half full of fresh clean water.

And in the pedal bin a valentine card with lovey-dovey teddy bears had been ripped in two and thrown on top of the accumulated rubbish.

On top of the card lay the wilting, red rose.

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