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Love, Rose by Missy Roback | Word Riot
Short Stories

April 15, 2013      

Love, Rose by Missy Roback

To the world, you appear to be single. Everywhere you go — the coffee shop, the library, out with your friends — you are alone. Your newer friends claim you’re not really married — they’ve never met your husband. You laugh at the joke, play along, make excuses. He’s busy, you say. He’s working. Sometimes, it’s true.

***

Blue light pierces the dark. It hurts your eyes. Your head, it’s been hurting a while. You squint at the blue. Three a.m. Call the number, leave the same message. Where are you? It’s late. You hug your pillow to your chest, cry into the flannel. I’m tired.
     In the kitchen the vials are lined up neatly on the table. He always makes you wait.

***

Three-thirty. Call again. You said you’d be here. I need to go to sleep. Your king-size bed is an insult. You flip the phone open and shut, open and shut. He went to a club in the Mission to help a friend set up audio equipment, said he’d be back soon. And then it was eleven, and then it was midnight. And then he had to wait for the club to close so he could get his gear back.
     At four, you call again. The message box is full.

***

Four-thirty. A wooden squeak in the hall. Footsteps, quiet, he’s trying not to wake you.
     He has excuses; he always does. His cell phone battery died. He was just playing Trivial Pursuit with some people. He gives you a cheap scented candle from Walgreens, as if that makes up for it. See, I didn’t forget you.
     You want to throw the candle at the wall, but you’re too exhausted. Just give me the shot so I can go to sleep, you say. I’m so tired. Please, just give me the shot.

***

You’re careful and neat. You disinfect everything. You have your own red sharps container you deposit the used needles in. But you don’t trust yourself with the needle. Your hands shake. You tried it once, but you couldn’t even break the skin, you felt so hot, so faint. I need your help, you’d said. He resents your weakness, thinks you should be able to do it yourself.

***

You remember the first time you went to the clinic, the beautiful, expensive view of the San Francisco Bay, and how you thought that view was supposed to temper the desperation that hung in the air like fog. Couples together, tense with hope and pain. Or maybe that was just how you felt. At the end of your visit, the staff took a Polaroid of the two of you, pale and grim.

***

This much you can do: Poke the needle into the vial of water, draw some up and insert it into the vial of powder. Tip it from side to side, agitate slowly like you’re processing film. An experiment, something you might have done in eleventh-grade chemistry, Mr. Chasse’s class. He was obsessed with swine. He drew pictures of them on the blackboard: Einswein, Frankenswein, pigs eating in the school swineteria. The guy was off his rocker.
     Tap the glass lightly, get rid of any bubbles. This is where you falter. You’re afraid you’ll inject an air bubble and die. I’m ready, you say but he’s not, he’s in the living room watching the History Channel. Just wait ‘til this is over, he says, and you wait. That’s a good night, when you get the shot before he disappears. Before he goes to the Safeway on Market for ice cream, and forgets his way home.

***

Your feet in stirrups, the ceiling fluorescently white. Cold metal inside you, your abdomen cramps. Tears pool in your ears and you wonder if life can possibly grow in such emptiness. A song about flowers growing in a garbage dump. You close your eyes and hum the melody.
     He was late to the appointment, arriving by cab. You came here alone, embarrassed. My husband and his sperm will be here soon. You’d waited at home until ten-thirty — get up, we have to go — but he wouldn’t. The clinic across town, the parking difficult. You couldn’t wait. He’d come home at sunrise. He’d had an asthma attack, had to go to the 24-hour Walgreens. Had to drive a friend home, she had too much to drink. Whichever, you don’t remember. I thought you were dead, you’d said, turned away, tried to sleep. Now he drives you both home and you stare out the window, still crying silently. You want him to ask how it felt in the exam room, so you can say it felt awful, it felt sad, unnatural, cold, but he’s angry you left for the clinic without him.
     At home, you close the bedroom door, crawl under the covers. You drift among clouds dark yellow and gray. Cars crash around you in pieces. You fucker, they scream, you fucker, not waiting for me. Why do you think I wasn’t ready to go? Something smashes against the door. Shoes. No, heavier. In bed, your body jerks each time something hits the door. You curl into yourself, afraid, wondering how this is upsetting your body, undoing the procedure you just had. You cover your head with the blanket to escape the noise, not understanding the degree of his anger, not knowing where it comes from.

***

The two of you talked about having a baby for years, but the time never seemed right. Now you’re forty, running out of time. You wanted to start treatments six months ago but he kept stalling, and you didn’t know why — if it was fear, or something more.
     You don’t tell anyone about the clinic. No one knows what you’re doing. You don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up beside your own.

***

Once in a while, you have a good day. He’s home, and present. You watch a movie together, play music. He’s funny and boyish and you think This is the man I know and you feel something like hope growing inside you, a crocus pushing through dirt.
     But the next day, everything turns again.

***

In September, nothing happened, not even a viable egg. This time, October, you have three good-sized eggs. You wait.
     Two weeks later, you get your period, right on the dot. You are alone when you begin to bleed.
     The clinic recommends only three tries with IUI. Three strikes, you’re out. After that, you can try IVF, if you can afford it. You cannot. Artificial insemination is not cheap. In vitro is out of reach.

***

Thanksgiving. Just the two of you. You’ve postponed the next round of injections for a month. Exhausted, you need a rest.
     You make a small dinner, nothing special: frozen turkey pot pies, dessert, wine. At five, he’s still sleeping, snoring. His head beaded with sweat, the rest of his body dry. You can’t wake him.
     You have dinner by yourself. You think of your friend inviting you to her Thanksgiving party, Oh, thanks, we already have plans.

***

December. Nothing changes but you.

***

The Internet tells you everything you don’t want to know.
     A cigarette lighter can last a long time, or be spent in one evening. A Chore Boy can be used to scrub pots and pans, or used as a filter. A ball-point pen — use it to write grocery lists, or remove the ink cartridge and it becomes a pipe. These things, you’ve already found in the apartment. Random, everyday items that don’t call attention to themselves. They’ve probably been here for months.
     The rose is what breaks you. It is tiny, red, doll-sized, not an inch long. When you find it in his desk drawer, you can no longer deny the truth.
     A love rose, a small glass tube encasing a tiny fake rose. It is sold as a cheesy romantic gift. Remove the rose, it’s a crack pipe.

***

Her name was going to be Rose. Your grandmother’s name, your middle name. Three generations of Roses seemed nice, had a sense of tradition. There is so little tradition in your life, nothing traditional in your marriage. If you had a boy, you might have named him Miles or Jules, but you always thought you’d have a girl, if only because you wanted one so badly. To right the wrongs, to fill the hole. To be the mother you always wanted, to be the girl you never were. To be the friend, the confidant, the giver of advice, of solace. To hold her and say “I love you, my sweet girl.” To say it freely, say it often, not wait ‘til she’s in college and you’re in the hospital, the first of many stays.

***

You hide things well. You learned, at an early age, how to lie, to cover up. Stiff upper lip. Tough New Englander, all that.
     You’ve been practicing for this moment all your life.
     You confide in a few friends who live far away. No one else needs to know.

***

In time, you leave him.

***

For two years, the vials stay in a box in the kitchen closet. You shut them away, try to forget they’re there. And then one day you reach back, behind the ancient Jello boxes, soup mixes, gummy bears, and retrieve the box. You examine the tiny, doll-like glass tubes, each one filled with white powder, hormones extracted from menopausal women. The powder will expire soon. You wish you could sell the vials — they were expensive, you need the money — or donate them, but it’s illegal. A controlled substance. You throw them in the trash, the tiny bottles clinking like champagne glasses.
     You keep the sharps container. You don’t know why.

***

He’s somewhere in LA. He calls you sometimes, the middle of the night. You sold me out, deserted me. So selfish of you. To leave him when he needed you most.
     Other times, he pleads for another chance.
     Sometimes you answer, sometimes you let the machine pick up. You never consider changing your number. You want to know he’s still alive.

***

The needles bore into the back of your neck, a hundred cat claws. You take deep breaths — in, out — and grip the chair back. We’re almost done, Diego says, jackhammering away. I think you’re gonna be happy.
     The tattoo tells your story now, the story of how nothing is what it seems. Most people will never see it. But if you lift your hair up, you’ll expose the small red rose, the beautiful scar. And if someone asks you what it means, you might tell them.

roback_headshotAbout the author:

Missy Roback’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review and Stymie Magazine, and has been short-listed for the Poets & Writers’ California Writers Exchange Award, among others. She is a Ucross Foundation fellow and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. “Love, Rose” is from her current project, a novel in stories called The Sky Ride. www.missyroback.com

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