The bouquet arrived anonymously at her door on Friday evening at six forty-three. The glass vase was large but basic, filled with a spray of twenty-seven red roses and a handful of white baby’s breath.
She set the vase in the center of the coffee table then seated herself in the chair across the room to study it. There was no card, but that wasn’t necessary.
The deep red was seductive. She wanted to stroke them, even caress her lips with their soft petals. The thorns had been removed and she wondered whether that was a standard practice of this florist or had been a specific request from the sender.
She got up and went to the kitchen. She poured half a glass of Pinot Grigio and returned to her seat across from the flowers. It broke her heart to think of destroying something so beautiful but she wasn’t going to stand for this assault on her hard-won mental stability.
The pulsing red filled the room, splashing across the white wall, the only color in a room filled with white wicker and white cushions, glass tables, and a pale hardwood floor. Even her appearance matched the colorless room — her white hair, her creamy beige skirt and sweater and espadrilles. The presence of the roses was shocking.
Soon, Art would be home and he’d want to know who sent the flower. He wouldn’t be jealous, just curious. Other women would be grateful their man wasn’t the jealous type, but she craved that jealousy, a desire to keep her all to himself. Instead, he left he floating in a dark ocean of uncertainty.
Of course, he wouldn’t like if if he knew where the flowers had come from. He wouldn’t be afraid, although he probably should be. He’d be disgusted. Anyone would be disgusted. She stood, unsure of what to do. Tossing them right now before he saw them was the best solution, but she needed to do more. They were so beautiful, so filled with hatred. She was surprised she hadn’t received an annual bouquet.
She crossed the room and put her wine glass on the table, well away from the flowers. She knelt on the floor. One of the petals on the rose nearest to her was pulled slightly away from the blossom. A small imperfection that heightened the exquisite, almost unreal quality of the others. She touched it, the texture as soft as she’d imagined. She pulled the petal away, carefully tearing it free, although a ragged edge remained. She dropped the petal on the table and took a sip of wine.
The floor was hard on the bones of her knees, but she resisted shifting her position. She tore off another petal from the same blossom and dropped it near the other. She turned the flower slightly and tore off a third petal. So many petals, folded over each other, tucked out of sight, soon to be exposed. She continued peeling away each one, like peeling the skin and silk from an onion. Soon all that remained were the hips and the sepals that seemed to hold the petals in place, but really did nothing.
The roses were the color of blood. She got that. It was supposed to make her feel guilty, but it did not. She did wonder how Paula had found her address. Since she’d last seen Paula face to face, she’d married Art, changed her last name, and moved twice. Locating her couldn’t have been easy. Or maybe it was very easy. The internet followed you everywhere, especially when you had an unconventional name like Martyne Charming. It was difficult to eradicate previous names.
When Art’s key clicked the lock on the front door, the table was covered with rose petals like a silken red tablecloth, the vase an array of baby’s breath and the barren stems. Tiny seeds were sprinkled across the blanket of petals.
He stepped through the front door. Martyne sat back on her heels.
He paused for several seconds. “What did you do?”
She took a sip of wine, keeping her back toward him.
“I asked you a question.”
“I didn’t want them.”
“Who sent them?”
She stood. “I think they’re from an old friend.” Former friend would have been a more accurate way to describe Paula, but she wanted Art to move on to other matters.
“You didn’t even read the card.”
“There wasn’t one.” She turned to face him.
He held up a small white envelope.
She put out her hand. “I didn’t see that.”
“It must have fallen off.” He didn’t place it in her waiting hand.
“Give it to me, please.”
He poked his finger under the flap and tore it open. He pulled out the card and read it silently. He looked at her. “What does it mean?”
“I don’t know what it says.”
“I imagine you can guess.”
After several minutes of silence, he said, “Her blood is on your hands.”
She kept her eyes unblinking, gazing into his, past his. “I don’t know what it means.”
If she stayed calm, he would believe her. “An old friend of mine had a breakdown, it could mean anything.”
A rose for each year since Martyne had crashed her compact car, sending Paula through the windshield, mutilating her face, ending the life growing inside Paula’s womb. There was no blood on Martyne’s hands whatsoever. Seducing Martyne’s former husband, becoming pregnant with the child that should have been Martyne’s . . . that was all on Paula.
Martyne knelt and brushed the petals into a pile. “I’ll clean this up.”
“I don’t think you’re telling me everything,” Art said. “It’s disturbing that you would put so much effort into mutilating them.”
“Don’t be concerned. I tell you everything.” She picked up one of the petals, brushed it across her lips, and smiled at him.