Sub Rosa

Samantha Murray

My husband keeps secrets.

Sometimes his mouth moves in little patterns, opening, his tongue pushing against the roof of his mouth, moving against his teeth, but I hear no words. His secrets are not meant for me.

The roses know. He spends more and more time out in the garden. His garden really, not ours. I never go out there. It would be intruding. They eat up so much of his days now. He must supply them with mulch, with nutrients. He makes sure they have well-drained soil; sandy loam with a PH of 6.5. He sprays them every fortnight to prevent Black Spot. He checks them for aphids, for mites, thrips, scale, caterpillars.

And he talks to them.

I see him, out of the large bay windows. He touches a new bud with a light caress. He takes care to remove old dead flower heads and diseased leaves. He tells them everything.

When he brings me a bunch of bright red blooms I take them with a nod that brings the hair forward over my face so that he cannot see the suspicion in my eyes. Roses are sacred to Isis, to Aphrodite, to Venus. I am no goddess. What does he mean by this?

I arrange the roses in a glass bowl and put them on the kitchen counter.

Red roses are love, romance. Fidelity. Bright arterial blood bursting out from a sudden wound. I reach out and tug a petal that was hanging loosely. It comes away so easily, and curls in my palm, soft as newborn skin.

I place the petal on my tongue. Then I chew. It does not taste like it smells, more like lettuce without the crunch, with a very faint touch of soap. I reach for another.

I walk around that day with his secrets inside me. I digest them, they make their way into my cells. His secrets whisper to me. They tell of the rot and blight between us. They tell of disappointment, of resentment festering into hate. They tell me.

Maybe he notices that the red roses have gone from the kitchen, for a week later he brings me a handful of the palest peach. I accept them with something that pretends to be a smile.

Peach is for modesty.

I eat these, sometimes two at once.

Then I know. I know that he hankers for a woman at work. I know that he thinks about her and wishes he could come home to her. I know he tires of me, oh how he tires of me.

Later there are pink, then apricot tipped with orange, and I am filled up with the whispering. He is planning to rid himself of me. His mouth moves when he sees me, the muscles around his lips contracting. He says nothing.

I see him look at my plate sometimes, at the food I have pushed around it. He cannot prune me to promote strong spring growth. I am lighter every day, my head balanced somehow on my body which trembles and bows like a stalk in the wind.

He does not bring me the baby yellow roses, although I can see them, growing just to the left of the window.

He gave me baby yellow roses two years ago.

He painted our spare room the same colour, shortly afterwards. Pale yellow, baby yellow, to match the roses. Yellow roses are for joy they say, for the promise of a new beginning. There are boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling in our spare room now, and it is dusty, you almost can’t tell the colour anymore. I don’t go in there.

It was six months after that, after the yellow ones, that he had brought me a bouquet of white roses. They stood in the corner, the roses against the hospital wall, white on white.

White roses are said to be bridal, for purity, for ceremony.

But I knew white was for stillness. White is for things that will never be.

He brings me a single white rose today, two years to the day afterwards. It is just opening, unfolding, exquisite. For once his mouth is not moving, but I do not want to look at his eyes.

When he is gone I pluck a petal and put it in my mouth. I feel it curl against the roof of my mouth. I eat it slowly.

But no secrets whisper to me, and all it tastes like is emptiness.

I dash to the French doors and swing them open. I take my first few steps into the garden. His roses bloom in a riotous assault of colour. I never go out here, I haven’t been out here for two years. The garden is well-tended. So much time he spends out here. It is beautiful. It is loved.

I see the bush in the far corner of the garden, where you can’t see it from the windows. There are a few buds folded tightly in on themselves, and one flower. It is so deep and dark a red as to be black.

This is his prize, as I was once his prize. He has grown it for me I know, oh I know.

A black rose, I know what that means.

The outermost petal resists my pull just for an instant before coming away in my hand. As I eat it I imagine it tastes like candy floss—like sweetness and nothingness at the same time.

Nothing, nada, nirvana.

All the secrets. My blood as black as the rose, pooled, congealing.

Black is for death. Black is for farewell.

He will hack my body into parts once he has killed me. He will burn me down till all the little parts of me are fine enough to flutter and stir on the air.

He will cast the ash-me over the garden, over the roses. Like hers, like hers, oh, like hers.

Maybe that is how it should be.

I do not tell him that I cancelled the appointments he made for me with the blank-faced doctor.

I do not tell him that I have flushed the tablets she gave me down the lavatory because I only have an appetite for roses and the things they tell me.

And I do not tell him that I am eating his black rose, slowly, one petal at a time, from the outside in.

He keeps his secrets.

And I will keep mine.

Samantha Murray is a writer, actor, mathematician, and mother. Not particularly in that order. Her fiction has been seen in places such as Lightspeed, Escape Pod, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Writers of the Future Vol. 31, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. You can find her at Samantha lives in Western Australia in a household of unruly boys.

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