Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Lilies, Roses by Jason Jackson

Read by Tim Selby and Jennie Davies at 'Kisses & Blows'

When he buys me flowers, the first thing I do is fill the vase. I let the water run and run, because I love the way it spills over the glass lip. I love its cold kiss on my fingers. I love the rushing sound of it. Sometimes I stand at the sink for far too long. The flowers are there on the worktop, already dead, with the stalks ready for cutting, and I love that too, of course. The swift scissors, the particular angle of the slice. Precision work. And then I find immense pleasure in removing the stamens. Lilies  - he always buys me lilies - need to be neutered, as the stains can be impossible to remove. So I pluck, pluck, pluck. He doesn’t know how I feel about lilies, although I’ve wanted to tell him many times. I don’t like the smell. Cloying, somehow. Heavy, not light like a flower should be. And the way they look is somehow ghostlike. Eyeless, they seem to watch me. As I arrange them in the vase, sometimes I have to look away.  I make sure he never finds out that their smell, their blind, intense gaze, and even their colour - that off-whiteness, that pale green -  sometimes makes me vomit during the final stages of arrangement.


One day, she’ll take that vase and she’ll hurl it at me. It’s heavy, that thing, especially when it’s full of water and those ridiculous flowers. I imagine it striking my forehead, the lip of it cutting my skin, my blood flowing fast. I imagine falling. I imagine dying, right there on the carpet in front of the couch. I imagine her standing over me, the lilies lying across my chest, and I imagine her laughing. My anticipation of this moment, my own death and the pleasure she takes in it, is almost erotic.


I know he’s dull. Unimaginative. I know he could take more notice of me, listen to me, actually realise that I don’t like lilies. I like roses. But at least he buys me flowers. Birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, of course. And then, just occasionally, on some unimportant Thursday, or a Tuesday. There’s always a vase of lilies on the mantelpiece. I leave them there, and I never throw them out until he buys me some new ones. We can go for weeks. Months, even. Once, it took from September - my birthday - until Christmas day. The flowers were like thin corpses, hanging down from the lip of the vase. The water stank. The whole room stank. We carried on as normal. And then, Christmas day, a huge bunch, twenty or more. Almost too many for the vase. I let the water run. I cut the stems. I plucked the stamens. And, yes, I was happy. I even whistled ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ while I was doing it. It was Christmas day, and my husband had bought me flowers.


I buy my wife lilies but I buy Caitlin roses. Pink ones. Red ones. Yellow. White. Once, for her birthday, I spent two hundred and seventy-five pounds in a florist’s. They selected the finest, darkest maroon roses, placed them in vases of water mixed with black ink overnight, and then they delivered them - one hundred black roses - to Caitlin’s flat. When I arrived, she’d spread them all over the bed. We crushed them under our bodies even as they bit back at us, and in the morning the sheets were stained beyond repair.  


Once, a year or so ago, I bought myself some roses. I was in the supermarket, and I just thought, why not? It was only a small bunch, five or six, and to be truthful they weren’t too impressive. All red. A little limp. Seven pounds, they cost me. They came with some ferns. Some tall grass, just to fill the thing out. A bouquet, the label called it, but I thought that was a little grand.

I took them home with the shopping and I emptied the vase. There were some decaying lilies in there from three or four weeks previously, and I threw them away before I let the vase fill with water. The roses lay on the worktop. They looked a little sad, I suppose. Flowers always do, what with them being already dead. I’ve always found that strange. How a flower can be dead, but still be seen as beautiful. I remember seeing my mother’s corpse, rouged cheeks, all trussed up in a high-neck dress she hadn’t worn for years. My mother was a beautiful woman - much more beautiful than me - but her corpse was just a dead thing. I often think it would be helpful for us - the bereaved, I mean - if a corpse could keep its beauty for a while, just like a cut flower. It might help us through.

Anyway, I put the vase full of roses on the mantelpiece and I sat down on the couch. I was trying to watch television - I like the chat shows - but I couldn’t settle. I kept looking over at the roses. Somehow it just didn’t seem right. So I carried the vase back into the kitchen, took the roses out and placed them on the worktop. I emptied the water down the sink, and then I got the old lilies - what was left of them - out of the bin. I filled the vase with cold water and I put the rotted, limp lilies back into the vase. I made sure that when I threw the roses into the bin I squashed them down under some empty food tins and potato peelings. I didn’t want him to know what I’d done. I could just imagine how awful it would make him feel, to have his wife buy her own flowers.

I’ve tried to stop. Sometimes I can go for months without buying her any. All she has to do is throw the fucking things away, and then I think I could leave her. But no. She just lets them sit there, rotting. The water in the vase turns thick and green. The smell becomes almost a solid thing. The flowers are thin strips, husks, dust. But they’re there. I can’t touch them. I won’t. And I always give in. There’s always something, like our anniversary, her birthday, fucking Valentine’s Day, something. Or I just get weak, or guilty, or nostalgic, and I stop at the service station on the way home from work. They even know me in there. “Your wife’s a lucky woman,” one of them said to me. 

Well, not anymore. Tomorrow I’m buying roses for Caitlin, and I’m never buying lilies for my wife again. I’m not going back there. She can rot along with her flowers.


These lilies on the mantelpiece have been here for three weeks now. They’re brown. Wilted, and the smell is bad. But tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so I know it’ll be all right. I know that however bad things get, there’ll always be lilies.

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