The sun creases my shoulder blades, and a trace of sweat runs between them. I shield the roses from the glare, hiding the petals beneath my arm. There is some shade offered by the trees, but it is blocked by a sea of shorts and backpacks. I stop beside a lamppost, dousing the ends of the roses with ice-water from my bottle. One rose falls, and a few petals scatter across the sand and rock at my feet. It makes me think of Nia. Outside our house. She had told me that she felt sick. She was sitting in the white, wooden chair I had built for her, looking out over at our neighbours. She liked the flowers next door. She said that they made her happy. Then she screamed, and she jumped up and gathered her arms around my shocked neck. She told me that she thought she might be pregnant.
I offer a rose to dark hair and a camera. He struggles for coins, handing the flower to a pink dress and a teddy bear. His daughter blinks at me from behind her father’s waist. I smile. They move on.
The hours trail past slowly. There are another two rose-sellers – one by the parapet, another sells from a cart. I think I recognise the cart-seller. His name is Ash. The other is a stranger. He is marked by a scar beneath his left eye. He looks thin, and exhausted, and his eyes are empty. He is a mirror.
The sun begins to soften the sky, melting the clouds into the colour of lotus flowers, and the colour of roses. Ash has moved on, and in his place there is a woman playing the violin to the lovers etched along the sunset. Couples are framed by their shadows. I think of Nia, and of the boat. She told me that she’d lost the baby. Then she cried, and I kissed her on the forehead and beneath her ear. I told her that I loved her, and that I’d come back. At midnight I left for the boat.
Couples leave for hotels and white wine. I still have three roses. One looks withered. I grip them tightly, and move towards the parapet. I see Rome. Orange bricks, brown roofs, white stone. The sun makes the rooftops glisten. Further, I see the domes. White, gold, beautiful and private. My life is not domed.
I write the words ‘I love you, always’ in curly, gold writing, and I add a cross for a kiss, and the initials LN. He had come into the shop yesterday. A suit with a slim gold tie, and brown brogues. He looked exhausted. He asked for roses, twenty-one, and the gold ribbon. He picked the burgundy roses. He asked me to send them to the hospital on Petersburgh Street. He wiped a glisten from his eyes, and handed me fifty pounds in cash, and walked out.
I put the flowers in the back, and ask Terry to send them out with the delivery van. Anna has typed up another order form, and the instructions are printed out in blunt, faceless font. Eight roses, white, 6 lilies, and gypsophila. A silver ribbon, and pearls. I arrange the bouquet, and place a white, lace-trimmed card in the middle. I write ‘twenty four hours is not enough time to celebrate our twenty-five years. I love you, JK’. I wrap the ribbon tightly, and the flowers gather together around the card.
I go out from the back of the shop into the front of the store. Ribbons of daisies hang gently down from the ceiling, and a brush against a lily bouquet adds another dark stain to the arm of my white shirt. I smell the violets, and they remind me of my Grandfather, and the time that we fed the ducks and his hat flew off into the flower-beds, and we chased after it together. A thistle in a wedding posy scratches my wrist. Our famous roses are as red as the blood in the graze. They are dark and beautiful. I see Rome. And I see the man who offered me the rose when Jacob proposed to me on the garden parapet.