The Last Rose of Summer

This story carries a PG-18 Rating

ROSE_- with editing

Sara stood outside the now dilapidated house next door to the apartment where she and Jay used to live. The neighborhood, once so nice, had changed. Mrs. Wilson had lived in that house and, before she died, she’d grown roses with names and numbers that Sara never could remember, only admire. Yes, once upon a time the garden had been filled with an abundance of lovely roses; now, it was only a memory.

In the waste of its abandoned arms, the yard, having forgotten its past beauty, was covered with pitifully ruined soil, now overrun with empty wine bottles, used condoms, and dirty needles that had sent users into deadened dreams and then into oblivion. The loveliness of long ago roses seemed to be a figment of her imagination now. Standing there she was saddened — for the roses and the life that was no more.

Thinking back, it was as if all the pain and horror she had experienced had happened to someone else. She hated roses now — especially red ones. She used to love them: the vibrant color, the delicate, almost sculptured petals, the delicious scent. They’d been her favorite until the day her life had changed with a vengeance. Strange how one never knew where life would take them as it passed. She made herself remember now, and the scenes came alive to her again:

Sara’s breathing had been labored; her body and face battered and bloody as she sat in the corner of the tiled kitchen floor, white that morning, now slick and covered with her blood. She didn’t know how long she’d sat there. It may have been hours. Her thoughts screamed in her head – shocked and disbelieving what had just transpired. She couldn’t understand or even wrap her heart around the fact that someone she loved so deeply could be so cruel.

She had been married for only two years when she’d first seen signs of Jay’s abusive nature. The abuse had started with name calling – names she had never heard while living in her childhood home so filled with love. Then things had gotten worse, with pushing, then slapping. The first time he’d slapped her, he’d said it was because his dinner was five minutes late. It was their first anniversary. It could have been special, he’d said, if only she had put his food on the table on time. After that, the slapping turned into punches – his weight leaning into his pounding fists.

She had run out of excuses for the bruises, black eyes, and bloody lips that make up only slightly hid. She knew friends and family had stopped believing the stories of her clumsiness some time ago.

Jay seemed to hate all she stood for: the family and friends she loved and was not allowed to share time with on a Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday, the poetry she had written since childhood, books she treasured, the multi-colored, hand-made woven hammock purchased while on a trip to Mexico with friends. He’d made her store most of her things in the garage as if the sight of them were an affront to his senses. Then, in the dead of one night, he’d burned the garage to the ground.

She’d realized the depth of his hatred when, the day after the fire, he’d spotted a small smudge on the large, ornate, antiqued mirror she had purchased on layaway from Milady’s Antique Shop when she had her first job. It had cost more than anything she had ever purchased except her car. She loved it, and he knew she loved it. He had used his fist to break the beautiful piece, shouting that if she cared, the smudge wouldn’t have been there. Mirrored pieces rained down, covering the floor with shards of lighted prisms. She had felt his hatred so strongly it had taken her breath away. And as the abuse had progressed, her fear had intensified.

He always gave her flowers after the beatings he blamed her for. The huge bunches of bright red roses had started reminding her of blood. It was then she discovered her hatred of roses that would last for as long as she lived – if she lived.

She now vividly recalled the scenes from that last day:

Not knowing how long she’d sat there — it could have been minutes or hours — she’d noticed a warmth spreading beneath her — a warmth that turned quickly to shocking cold. She had soiled herself.

She rose slowly, her body in agony.  Leaning heavily on the short wall in the hallway, she slid along it to the bathroom. She couldn’t lock its door; he had kicked it in on her when she tried to hide there from last week’s beating. He refused to fix it. A lock on the door always helped her feel somewhat safe and protected, but now, there was no place to hide.

That she had soiled herself gave her a sadness that filled her very soul. Pulling the light string hanging from the ceiling, she peered in the medicine cabinet mirror through black half closed eyes; she did not recognize the face she saw: mangled, pulverized cheeks and lips so bloodied they hung like raw meat down to her chin. It was then a voice from deep within her said, enough. That inner voice grew louder and louder until it burst forth in a crescendo of pained, ragged rage, unrecognizable coming from the torn mouth

“Enough!” she yelled as loudly as she could from lips that seemed not to belong to her. And in that moment, the planning she’d started the previous week became a reality.

Sara could not tell what time it was, didn’t know when she had finally crawled atop her bed, bloody and drained.  It could have been one hour or six. She knew the aching of her spirit was worse than the pain of the beating. She knew her body would heal sometime. The wounding of her spirit on the other hand, would not be easy to heal. The pain ran deep, swirling in a liquid vortex. A spirit drained, then lost. It was as if she had never known herself As if she were dead with her mind’s eye open, staring into the darkness of nothingness.

Suddenly, it seemed as if a door opened deep inside of her. It was as if she were being guided by some force. Perhaps it was the spirits of the women in her family who had gathered around her, showing the way to every single step she would ever take in her life. She felt the embrace of the many strong women carrying her on their shoulders. Their spirits circled. The plan formed in her head and she knew what she had to do.

Much later, after having been out drinking until the wee small hours of the morning, Jay had come home. She’d heard him stumbling around the living room and kitchen. Coming into the bedroom he’d fallen drunkenly on the bed with his clothes and shoes on. Sara lay quiet and wary on top of the cover, still wearing the same clothes now stiff with her blood. Her anger had built to a rage that knew no bounds. Listening to him starting to snore loudly, she calmly got up and made her way to the living room closet.

A week before, after a beating, she had stored some things in that closed. On the top shelf, was a pillowcase containing a clothesline cut in four small pieces and one much longer piece; an old wide leather belt with a large, heavy western-style buckle. Next, a pair of her old high heels she could no longer wear that had been destined for the thrift shop. Holding the opening of the pillowcase, she reached in the corner of the closet and removed the mop handle that she had unscrewed from its mop head. She then slowly headed back to the bedroom.

Reaching the bedroom, she dumped the contents of the pillowcase on her side of their bed and proceeded to tie him spread eagle to the four poster bed. After tying him to the bed, she picked up the longer piece of rope and went into the bathroom to wet it. Going back into the bedroom, she began to beat him with the rope. She beat him and beat him thinking about all the times he had beaten her. She beat him until her hands stung from the wet rope. Finally throwing it aside, she then picked up the belt and started beating him until the belt buckle flew across the bed and landed in the bedroom door. He started waking up as she grabbed the mop handle and continued to beat him.

Again and again, she flayed him until he started cursing and screaming at her. He yelled that he would kill her if she didn’t let him up. That gave Sara more incentive to beat him almost savagely. He then began to beg her to please untie him, saying he would never hit her again. How does it feel my darling, Sara thought How does it feel?

Sick of hearing his voice, she whacked him in the sweet mouth that used to kiss her so passionately. She hit him so hard the teeth that had cost so much money started coming out of his mouth. He coughed up at least three teeth with blood and his lips started swelling. No more cursing and name calling.

Her arms, grown too weary to continue, fell at her sides, but then the sound of his voice made her pick up a high heeled shoe and continue to beat him until she could no longer move a muscle in her right hand and arm. Dropping the shoe, she stopped the beating, but didn’t bother to untie him. He smelled of stale alcohol, nasty cigarette smoke and piss, the stain growing larger beneath him.

Heading toward the bathroom, she’d felt a relief unknown to her since she had married him. That feeling of relief scared her. What she had done to him was so cruel; she of loving heart and giving spirit, was feeling relief as a result of inflicting so much pain.

Having packed a bag a few days previously and hidden it behind the sofa in the living room, she got in the shower and took her time showering. She didn’t touch her face; it was too painful and it would, tell its own story, in a little while. Moving slowly, she finished showering and then changed into clean clothes. When finished, she glanced at him again and, going to the living room, lifted the packed and waiting suitcase hidden behind the sofa a few days ago. Her hands were weak, and it was difficult to pull the suitcase across the floor.

With some semblance of compassion, she walked back into the bedroom and untied him. Backing away, she stood for a moment in the doorway and gazed in his eyes, meeting them with more courage than she had felt in a long time. Stared at him almost with hatred; he who was once her one and only love, lying quietly now in the stink that now permeated the room. He looked at her with disbelieving, shocked eyes, seeing their roles reversed.

The power within her had suddenly erupted like a once dormant volcano. She’d seen the resignation in his eyes. Still staring, Sarah had backed slowly away, then turned and made her way toward the living room and the waiting suitcase. As she moved past the coffee table, her eyes fell on the flowers sitting there. The large red bunch of roses had been shoved into a clear vase filled with water. Beads of spilled water were evident on the table. Without thought, she’d raised her foot and kicked the vase over, leaving water spilled everywhere; flowers lay ragged on the spotless floor.

In spite of how fastidious she had always been, the kick and the mess had given her pleasure. She no longer cared. Moving toward the apartment door, she’d turned back once more to look inside the living room. Then, quietly, she’d reached and shut the behind her.

Angry no longer, her spirit was now like a rose of Sharon. The thorns of the life she’d lived with Jay had already started to melt away. But she wondered if she would ever truly heal. The last rose of summer was no more, but life moved on, and as for her own healing, only time would tell.


Copyright © 2018 Deidra J. Jeffries

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photo courtesy of Annette Meyer @ pixabay.com

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