Hung downwards, from the rail in the wardrobe, my wife’s fresh-faced flowers hid behind her wedding veil. A tradition we learned from her grandmother. Our ‘something old’, to decorate our table in future anniversaries.
“They dry prettier in the dark,” she murred as she latched the shutter closed.
That first year she still saturated our pauses with absent observations.
“I broke another,” my wife clucked, a ceramic stem still at hand while its companion fragments laced the floor.
She counted her failures like this, with broken gestures and self-reprimands. When she burned herself it was her fault. She wore purples, my Rose, and vesper-blues with jaundiced yellows across the skin beneath her hemlines, but ever, always, it was her fault.
By the second autumn, those papery petals were a mere afterthought, locked alone in the dark. The pastel pinks faded to tea-amber, and my wife stopped speaking to me.
Her father took her away from me the next summer.
“She needs fresh air and sunshine,” the old adage, “and people who love her.”
Her belongings were wordlessly passed over in sullen exchange. I’d nicked my hand, brushed against the bouquet’s thorns on releasing a beloved coat to her parents’ care. Navy, in the daylight. I had always taken it for black.
It brought out the blue of her eyes. Not the pupils, those were ever a sordid hazel, but the circles which lined her worn features. Nestled in the nook of that paternal shoulder, she looked smaller, younger. She could have been almost thirty were June not so harsh an illuminator.
My silent years were to follow. In the barren wake of my wife’s exile, I scarcely distinguished a day from the next. Nor would I accurately recall the quiet months of her return, tinged so with that selective mutism she wore part for apathy and part, I suspected, in defiance.
Sometimes the rustle of her footsteps upset the floorboards in a wooden whine alerting me of her arrival; other times it was the whisper of her clothes to suggest her presence as she sauntered past.
She’d cry, after. When she thought I was asleep and she was alone in the dark. I never brought it up.
It occurred to me that Christmas Day was the last time I had heard my wife’s voice, when she began a, “How lovely…” to the carollers before she withdrew.
Even her tears, by May, would linger on the threshold of release and be denied.
She wrote to me, monosyllabically. ‘Milk,’ would read our kitchen blackboard on alternate Tuesdays. ‘Sun,’ within, the patio doors open and she somewhere without. ‘Cold,’ more often, and ‘sad’, ‘no’, ‘why’.
Never a question. ‘Why’. ‘Why’. ‘WHY’. An insistent demand, railed daily as the month progressed.
Resting on their side, over the runner on the table, our withered flowers stared at us.
“Rose,” I said, “we could always adopt.”
When she howled, it lacerated the veil of sanity I had clung to since that morning on our first anniversary.